Rethinking the Syria Accountability Act: Are Sanctions on Syria in the Best Interest of the United States?

Author:Alison N. Kurth
Position:J.D. Candidate, The University of Iowa College of Law, 2011.
Pages:239-277
Rethinking the Syria Accountability Act: Are Sanctions
on Syria in the Best Interest of the United States?
Alison N. Kurth*
I. INTRODUCTION .................................................................................. 240
II. WHAT ARE SANCTIONS? ..................................................................... 244
III. EFFECTS OF SANCTIONS GENERALLY ................................................ 245
A. Impact of Sanctions on Sender Countries .................................. 246
B. Consequences of Sanctions for Target Countries ....................... 247
C. When Sanctions Are Effective ..................................................... 248
IV. AN ANALYSIS OF U.S. SANCTIONS ON SYRIA ..................................... 251
V. EFFECTS OF SANCTIONS ON SYRIA .................................................... 253
A. Economic Effects ......................................................................... 253
B. Syria’s Behavior .......................................................................... 255
VI. LIKELIHOOD OF SYRIA MEETING U.S. DEMANDS UNDER THE
SANCTIONS ........................................................................................ 261
A. In Light of Sanctions Generally ................................................. 261
B. In Light of the Syrian Situation ................................................ 263
VII. WHETHER WAIVING SANCTIONS WILL HELP OR HINDER U.S.
INTERESTS ............. ............................................................................ 268
A. The Carrot and the Stick ............................................................ 268
B. Other Nations and Syria ............................................................ 270
C. Syria as a Cornerstone of the Middle Eastern Peace Process ... 273
VIII. RECOMMENDATIONS .......................................................................... 275
* J.D. Candidate, The University of Iowa College of Law, 2011. First, I would like to thank my
friends in Syria for their warm hospitality and for the inspiration to write my Note on this topic.
I would like to thank Jordan Hobfoll for his constant support and for reviewing several drafts of
this Note. I would also like to thank Ally Basak Russell for her suggestions and comments
during the writing of this Note, Ingrid Gronstal Anderson, who guided my Note through the
editorial process, and my other colleagues at Transnational Law & Contemporary Pro blems for
their thoughtful edits.
240 TRANSNATIONAL LAW & CONTEMPORARY PROBLEMS [Vol. 20:239
I. INTRODUCTION
On January 20th, 2009, Barack Hussein Obama was swo rn in as the
44th President of the United States. President Obama’s inaugural address
suggested a strong willingness to work with countries that the Bush
Administration had dubbed “the Axis of Evil.” 1 His statement that “we will
extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist,” evinced this readiness
to reach out to such countries.2 The President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, sent
a letter to President Obama, congratulating him on his inauguration and
promising cooperation on various issues in the Middle East.3 These actions
suggested an end to the United States’ isolationist policy toward Syria and
signaled the possibility that Syria wo uld aid the United States in achiev ing
peace in the region.
Since President Obama’s inauguration, his ad ministration has explored
new approaches in U.S. relations with Syria,4 in contrast to the isolation o f
Syria over the past decade by “key international players.”5 U.S.-Syr ian
diplomatic relations had worsened over the ten years following the Clinton-
sponsored breakdown of Syrian-Israeli negotiations. 6
During this time, several events led to the further disintegration of U.S.-
Syria relations: (1) the Palestinian intifadah of 2000; (2) Syrian support of
groups such as Hamas; (3) Syria’s disapproval of the U.S.-led invasion of
Iraq; (4) the Bush Administration’s reg ion-wide policy of promoting
democracypushing for the reassertion of Lebanese sovereignty from Syria;
(5) U.S. policymakers’ open support for a regime change in Syria; and (6) the
2005 assassination of former Leban ese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. 7
1 Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, From ‘Axis of Evil’ to ‘Cle nched Fist,’ ASIA TIMES, Feb. 28, 2009, available
at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/KB28Ak02.html.
2 Ronald Baygents, Obama Addresses Muslim WorldDirectly in Inaugural Address, Calling for
“New Way Forward,” KUWAIT NEWS AGENCY (Jan. 20, 2009, 9:52 PM),
http://www.kuna.net.kw/NewsAgenciesPublicSite/ArticleDetails.aspx?Language=en&id=1970143
.
3 Sami Moubayed, Syria Confident of US Détente, ASIA TIMES, Feb. 21, 2009, available at
http://www.atimes.com/a times/Middle_East/KB21Ak01.html.
4 See, e.g., Marc Lynch, Is Something Brewing With Syria?, FOREIGN POLY: MARK LYNCH BLOG,
(Sept. 1, 2009, 1:53 PM),
http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/09/01/is_something_brewing_with_syria; Tony Badran,
Don’t Let Damascus Out of the Doghouse: Why Engaging Syria on Bashar al-Assad’s Terms is a
Fool’s Errand, FOREIGN POLY: ARGUMENT BLOG, (Mar. 4, 2009, 2:59 AM),
http://experts.foreignpolicy.com/po sts/2009/03/04/dont_let_damascus_o ut_of_the_doghouse.
5 JEREMY M. SHARP, CONG. RESEARCH SERV., RL 33487, SYRIA: BACKGROUND AND U.S. RELATIONS
1 (2009) [hereinafter SHARP 2009], availabl e at http://www.docstoc.com/docs/5984604/"syria-us-
relations-and-Bilateral-Issues".
6 Id.
7 Id. Many experts believed that the highest levels of the Syrian government were responsible for
orchestrating the assassination of Hariri. Id. But see Nicholas Blanford, Hariri Assassination
Suspects Freed in Blow to Syria’s Opponents, CHRISTIAN SCI. MONITOR, Apr. 29, 2009, available
at http://features.csmonitor.com/globalnews/2009/04/29/hariri-assassination-suspects-freed-in-
Spring 2011] RETHINKING THE SY RIA ACCOUNTABILITY ACT 241
Furthermore, the United States placed sanctions on Syria through the Syrian
Accountability and Lebanese Sovereig nty Restoration Act of 2003 (“SAA”),
the USA PATRIOT Act, and the International Emergency Economic Powers
Act (“IEEPA”).8 After the assassination of Hariri, the United States withdrew
its ambassador from Syria. 9 Despite such events, some analysts have
suggested that Syria mig ht now be in a position to “benefit from a more
advantageous regional political environment.” 10
Syria’s leadership consists of an “authoritaria n military-dominated
regime.”11 The current chief of state, Preside nt Bashar al-Assad, took office in
July 2000 after the death of his father, Haf ez al-Assad.12 The m ajor ruling
party is the socialist pan-Arab Ba’ th Party, which came to power in 1963 and
to which the al-Assad family belongs.13 The Syrian legal system is a
combination of French and Ottoman civil law, while Personal Status Courts
employ Islamic law in marriage and div orce cases.14 Majo r international
issues involving Syria include a dispu te with Israel over the Israeli-occupied
Golan Heights, the presence of well over one million Iraqi refugees in Syria,
and accusations of Syrian interference in Le banon and the destabilization of
Iraq.15
blow-to-syrias-opponents/ (stating that the U.N. tribunal investigating the murder of Hariri had
ordered the release of four senior Lebanese officials backed by the Syrian government, thus
possibly shifting the focus of the investigation away from Syria). Saad Hariri, who at the time of
his remarks was Prime Minister of Lebanon, stated that the accusations that Syria had been
involved in the assassination were “political” and have since been withdrawn. Rafik Hariri
Inquiry: Syria Issues 33 Arrest Warrants, BBC (Oct. 4, 2010, 12:26 ET),
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11470051.
8 SHARP 2009, supra note 5, at 1014; Syria Sanctions, U.S. DEPT OF THE TREASURY,
http://www.treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/programs/syria/syria.shtml (last visited Nov. 2,
2010); Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003 [SAA], Pub. L. No.
108-175, 117 Stat. 2482 (contained within notes following 22 U.S.C. § 2151), available at
http://www.fas.org/asmp/resources/govern/108th/pl_108_175.pdf; International Emergency
Economic Powers Act of 1977 [IEEPA], 50 U.S.C. §§ 170107 (1977); Uniting and Strengthening
America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of
2001 [USA PATRIOT Act], Pub. L. No. 107-56, § 311, 115 Stat. 272 (codifie d in scattered sections
of the U.S. Code), available at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-107publ56/pdf/PLAW-
107publ56.pdf.
9 Senator Kerry: Syria Willing to Help Achieve Palestinian Unity, HAARETZ, F eb. 21, 2009
[hereinafter Syria Willing], available at http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1065843.html.
10 SHARP 2009, supra note 5, at 1.
11 CIA WORLD FACTBOOK: SYRIA, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-
factbook/geos/sy.html (last visited Nov. 2, 2010) [hereinafter CIA WORLD FACTBOOK: SYRIA].
12 Id. Currently, al-Assad is serving his second year as president. Id.
13 SHARP 2009, supra note 5, at 19 (“Barring a major governmental change, a Syrian leader would
need to enjoy the support of the Ba’th Party apparatus.”).
14 CIA WORLD FACTBOOK: SYRIA, supra note 11.
15 SHARP 2009, supra note 5, at 59; Tony Badran, Is the Obama Administration Fed Up with
Syria?, ACROSS THE BAY (Sept. 15, 2009, 10:32 AM),
http://beirut2bayside.blogspot.com/2009/09/is-obama -administration-fed-up-with.html.

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