The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act is a bipartisan bill designed to sanction the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad for mass murder and crimes against humanity. The bill would also sanction entities that support Assad, namely Russia and Iran. The Obama administration is reportedly seeking to weaken the bill in an apparent attempt to avoid complicating implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement or to close off any possible cooperation with Russia in Syria.
Not everyone agrees — including the bill’s sponsors. “There’s this delusional idea that you can have peace in Syria without an ‘or else.’ This [bill] is potentially that ‘or else,’” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), one of the original sponsors of the bill. The Democratic sponsor, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, who is reportedly in negotiations with the White House, said, “For me, it’s this simple: We need more tools to crack down on the Assad regime and any person or government helping sustain Assad’s campaign of violence.”
The Obama administration has long wavered on intervention in Syria, fearing that any action could lead to an even worse situation. Yet there has never been doubt that the Assad dictatorship is inhumane and brutal. According to numerous reports, there have been some 400,000 deaths and 14 million Syrians displaced during the ongoing civil war conflict, with the Syrian Network for Human Rights attributing 94 percent of civilian deaths to the Syrian regime. And Assad is reported to have prevented United Nations humanitarian aid from reaching those most in need.
The devastation in Syria is the reality behind the Caesar Act, named for the pseudonym of a Syrian defector who helped chronicle state-sponsored atrocities. The bill’s supporters argue that sanctions may be America’s only leverage left in the regional war being fought over Syria. But is it really clear that sanctions would push the parties into serious negotiations? Or would there be unintended consequences?
At a time when Russia is increasing its rhetoric against the West, and Iran is continuing to undermine stability in the Middle East, what is the proper response that should come from the U.S. Congress?
Forty U.S. rabbis and nine rabbinic organizations believe that the Caesar bill is a good first step, and that the legislation should get an airing. Just before Rosh Hashanah they sent a letter to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), urging her to allow a vote. “Our teacher Elie Wiesel taught us that wherever there is suffering, that is the center of the world. Syria is the center of the world today,” the letter reads.
We agree. And we would like to support what appears to be a humane and worthy bill. But before doing so, we would like to get some answers about its potential costs. We urge a prompt, full airing of the issues.