Sanctioning President Assad – what can it accomplish? Most importantly, it will help President Obama in his presidential campaign. He can stand as someone who acts firmly against Arab dictators. He killed Bin Laden and sanctioned Bashar al-Assad. He takes decisive action and stands with the Arab street. This will serve him well in his campaign and temporarily hushes the chorus of right wing critics in Washington who want to weaken Syria and end diplomatic relations with the regime.
Oddly, the sanctions against Syria’s top government figures come at a time when the regime is gaining control over the protest movement and suppressing dissent. The sanctions come too late to add momentum to the protest movement. They may prolong the movement but will not topple the regime.
They will add to Syria’s economic difficulties as the regime seeks to regain legitimacy in the future. The opposition failed to divide the Syrian army from the president, as happened in Egypt. They also failed to provoke a confessional split in the army as happened in Lebanon. Sunni soldiers have not split from Alawis, despite all the talk about “shabbihas,” which is code for Alawis.
The fall back position of the Syrian opposition must be to stifle the economy and work for a the ruin of the regime, when it can no longer pay the bills. These sanctions will help in a small way toward that end. If Europe joins in sanctions of Assad, no diplomat, senator, or head of state will be able to meet with President Assad in the future. The next logical step is European trade sanctions. These sanctions may well serve as a slippery slope toward more meaningful sanctions – the object of which is regime change.
David Ignatius argued in his Washington Post Op-ed – Bashar al-Assad’s endgame: Can a bloodbath be avoided? – that “major nations conclude that [Assad’s} regime cannot survive.” He also writes that “The governments of France, Saudi Arabia and Jordan… are all said to have concluded that the Assad regime cannot survive”…. and Turkey will not support Assad.
Who in the world do they think is going to unseat Assad? This is most perplexing. Western leaders will certainly get a weakened Syria and a more isolated Assad from these sanctions but not regime change. Obama gains. Opposition leaders get more support. Syrians will get poorer.