Thursday, September 8, 2011
Washington Post Editorial Board Opinion
THE SLAUGHTER in Syria goes on. The latest assault by Bashar al-Assad’s troops and tanks targets the city of Homs, where at least 14 people were reported killed on Wednesday. Videos uploaded to the Internet show merciless executions of unarmed civilians. And, as U.S. ambassador Robert Ford notes in a searing Facebook message, there is no evidence of the “terrorists” the regime claims to be fighting.
The Assad regime is once again demonstrating that it has no strategy for responding to popular protests other than mass murder — and that appeals for “reform” by foreign governments are foolish. The latest statesman to be embarrassed is Nabil Elaraby, secretary general of the Arab League, who was due to fly to Damascus on Wednesday to remonstrate with the dictator. His visit was abruptly postponed to this weekend — allowing the assault on Homs to continue unhindered. Arab news reports said Mr. Elaraby hoped to persuade the regime to end the killing and take steps to satisfy the opposition. If so, he will be disappointed — like the Obama administration, European governments and Turkey before him.
Only the end of Mr. Assad’s regime will end the violence. So far the estimated death toll is well above 2,000, though the real total is unknown. Foreign governments cannot topple Mr. Assad — Syrians must do that. But outsiders can help by abandoning efforts to “engage” the dictator and instead stepping up political and economic sanctions.
The European Union made a major contribution to that effort last month by banning oil imports from Syria, which obtains up to $16 million a day from sales to Europe. It’s not clear that the regime can find another market for that crude, though its finance minister said it will try selling it to Russia and China. The United States and its allies should be pressing those countries not to bail out Damascus — and to stop blocking sanctions by the U.N. Security Council. If Moscow insists on protecting Mr. Assad, it should be forced to vote on a Security Council resolution so that Arabs throughout the Middle East can see its support for bloody repression.
In Washington, a sanctions bill before Congress deserves a fresh look. Sponsored by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) , it would build on the European import ban by penalizing others who buy Syrian oil or invest in the energy sector and by targeting Syrian trade in refined energy products. More so than Iran or other rogue states, Syria is vulnerable to an economic squeeze. The more that Western governments can apply it, the greater the chance of saving lives in places such as Homs.
This editorial was published in The Washington Post on 08/09/2011