April 25, 2012

EU luxury sanctions against Syria - is the best you can do?

Syria's First Lady - Asma al-Asad

On April 23, the European Union announced that it would ban the export of luxury goods to Syria as part of new sanctions to punish the regime's continued attacks on its citizens. Are you serious? This is the EU response to the continued Syrian regime's assaults on its own people? This is the best the world can do - cut off Asma al-Asad's access to European fashion and high-end luxury items?

Even members of the Syrian opposition find it ridiculous. If it wasn't so serious, it would be funny.

These photographs were taken at a demonstration in the city of Kafr Nabal on April 24, a day after the luxury goods sanctions were imposed. Kafr Nabal is located in northern Syria between Hamah and Aleppo (Halab); the area has seen a lot of violence over the last year. The signs both carry the date of 4/24/2012 and the location as "Occupied Kafr Nabal."

The sign on the left reads:
The killing in Syria has stopped after the prohibition on exporting perfume to the al-Asad family.

The sign on the right reads:
The Syrian regime is in a true crisis because of the decrease in caviar for the al-Asad family.

It is comical to read some of the comments that accompanied the cutoff of caviar and perfume (yes, I am being sarcastic). The EU ministers stated, "The EU will continue its policy of imposing additional measures targeting the regime..as long as repression continues." British Foreign Secretary William Hague added, "It is very important for us to keep up that pressure, step up that pressure. They are not in full compliance of the ceasefire requirements of the Annan plan."

You can't make this up. Do they honestly believe that halting exports of European luxury goods will change the behavior of regime of Bashar al-Asad? The Syrian president is the son of one of the most repressive dictators in modern Middle East history, and now he is a tyrant in his own right - as many as 10,000 of his own citizens have died in the last year.

The words of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton: "We call on the government to withdraw troops from towns and cities." Add to that the words of German Minister of State Michael Link, "The luxury ban constitutes a loss of prestige for leading circles of the regime."

Yeah, the loss of prestige and the lack of perfume and caviar is going to make the regime alter its behavior. Reality check. Bashar al-Asad is the president of a country; his wife is British born and educated. Asma al-Asad has a degree computer science and French literature, and worked as an investment banker, and holds a British passport. I would think she is smart enough to acquire whatever she wants from wherever she wants. These sanctions are ludicrous.

This farcical sanction protocol, combined with the deployment of a handful of unarmed United Nations observers with no mandate or authority. They are being played - quite effectively - by the Syrian government. The French are demanding that the numbers of observers be increased to 300 within the next two weeks.

That's all well and good, but for them to be effective, they must have the cooperation of the Syrian government. That means real cooperation, not the lip service at which the Syrians excel. I do not believe the Syrians have any interest in facilitating the operations of yet another United Nations observer group. When I was the Air Attache at the American embassy in Damascus, I had to make some arrangements that were part of a UN agreement - the level of cooperation was minimum at best.

If the United Nations, the European Union and yes, the United States, are serious about changing the behavior of the Syrian regime, it will require more than sending the perennially ineffective Kofi Annan to Damascus to negotiate a meaningless agreement, and more than weak sanctions.

Unfortunately, I am beginning to think that it is time to talk about a no-fly/no-drive zone in parts of the country.