As Assad’s Crackdown Continues, the West Needs to Do More Than Just Watch

Berlin — If the American and European posture toward Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on the Syrian people could be summarized in a single phrase, U.N. high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay had it: The “world is watching.” But just watching.

Pillay’s empty warning to Assad, whose regime has murdered an estimated 1,700 Syrians, is symptomatic of an approach that has long pampered the London-educated eye doctor in hopes that he would introduce major reforms. (On a side note, Pillay is part of the problem. In 2009, she organized the U.N.’s infamous “anti-racism” conference, which provided a platform for the Syrian regime’s principal sponsor, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to stoke genocidal hatred against Israel.)

On Wednesday, the Syrian regime used extensive state media coverage of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s trial to distract attention from its ongoing brutality in the city of Hama, which has resulted in one of the largest single massacres since Syrian democracy protests first began in March.

An endless stream of State Department and EU statements, low-intensity U.S. and European sanctions against Syrian regime figures, and terse meetings with Syrian diplomats in Western capitals have not deterred Assad.

To his credit, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi recalled his country’s ambassador to Damascus. The rest of the West should follow suit. Plainly said: The international community should ratchet up the pressure, and seek to dislodge Assad through economic sanctions, the severance of diplomatic ties, and possibly more.

Europe remains one of the largest consumers of Syrian oil. As demonstrated in a newly released FDD report, Syria is uniquely vulnerable to the pressure of sanctions. The Syria Sanctions Act of 2011, introduced by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.), Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), and Joseph Lieberman (I., Ct.), would “require the President to impose tougher sanctions on Syria, similar to those on Iran, until Syria transitions into a democracy for the people, ends support for terrorists, and ceases its nuclear program and missile technology and WMD trade.” The bill would also prohibit certain export licenses, deny access to U.S. markets, financial institutions, and federal contracts, and impose a three-year ban on government contracts against companies who falsely claim they do not conduct business with Syria. The bill also opens the door to the possible enactment of sanctions against non-U.S. companies that trade with Syria.

European states remain key to influencing a change in Syria. Germany, England, France, and Italy — the continent’s primary economic and political powerhouses — should follow the lead of the bipartisan congressional bill and pressure Assad’s regime in Europe.

Lastly, Obama and the leaders of other democracies should make a joint appearance to declare their solidarity and support for those brave Syrians who dare to change their regime.

Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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