WASHINGTON — Long before President Obama decided that his red line with Syria had been crossed and came asking for authorization to strike at Bashar al-Assad, members of Congress had been putting forth legislative proposals in an effort to stop the bloodshed and mitigate its humanitarian crisis.
Bills began soon after Syrian protesters took to the streets in March 2011, inspired by the toppling of other regimes in the Arab Spring. Yet the dictator responded to the demonstrations with lethal force, which evolved into armed rebellion as the months dragged on and the death toll grew higher.
Some Syria legislation that died in the 112th Congress was resurrected this year. Still, bills that carry bipartisan support and offer a variety of options for dealing with the Syrian crisis had been pushed to the back burner before Assad’s chemical weapons attack and subsequent request by Obama for a use-of-force authorization.
H.R.893: Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Accountability Act of 2013
Introduced at the end of February by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) with 15 cosponsors, including Democrat Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Tea Party favorite Steve Stockman (R-Texas), the bill would impose sanctions for at least two years on any person or entity transferring goods, services, or technology for the chemical, biological, or advanced conventional weapons program of Iran, North Korea, and Syria, and prohibits assistance to any foreign government that has provided aid to these regimes or has failed to prevent its citizens or entities from doing so.
“As a nation, we should come to the conclusion that when it comes to these rogue regimes, diplomacy and engagement have not and will not work. Iran has taken steps to continue its enrichment process, North Korea continues its nuclear and ballistic testing, and Syria’s arsenal may land in the wrong hands,” Ros-Lehtinen said at the time. “This bill will really step up the pressure on these regimes and hit them where it hurts: in the pockets.”
The legislation hasn’t made it out of committee. Its sanctions are similar to Ros-Lehtinen’s Syria Freedom Support Act in the 112th Congress, introduced three months after the uprising began in 2011 and passed out of committee the following year.
Ros-Lehtinen is calling on the administration to more clearly outline its operation and objectives, yet is likely to vote for strike authorization.
H.R.1327 : Free Syria Act of 2013
Introduced in March by House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) with seven co-sponsors, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), this bill says “the United States should coordinate its assistance efforts with the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s Assistance Coordination Unit” while stepping up humanitarian aid and requiring assistance to be marked as being “From the American People” with a representation of the U.S. flag. It calls for military assistance to vetted Syrian forces and a broadcasting service for the Syrian opposition, and authorizes the president to “establish a program to facilitate the destruction of Syrian chemical and biological weapons, other weapons of mass destruction, and associated parts and equipment,” according to the Congressional Research Service summary.
“President Assad’s days are numbered as the situation in Syria goes from bad to worse. No longer can we watch as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster unfolds before our very eyes,” Engel said then. “We are long past due to arm friendly rebels and turn the tide to allow for a more hopeful Syrian future. Ridding Syria of Assad will provide a strategic setback to Iran, which uses Syria as a pass-through to prop up their terrorist proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
The legislation hasn’t made it out of committee. Engel and Rogers are supporting Obama’s current call for strikes against Assad.
H.RES.229: Calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and others to be tried before the International Criminal Court for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity
Introduced by Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) in May, this resolution finds that “under the command of President Bashar al-Assad, Syrian Government forces and shabiha forces have been accused of gross human rights violations including heavy shelling of civilian areas, widespread pillaging and the burning of homes, denial of basic human needs such as food, water, and medical care, mass torture and arrests, unlawful detention, and brutal execution-style killings.” It “calls on the United Nations Security Council, based on evidence that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been perpetrated in Syria, to refer the situation of Syria to the International Criminal Court.”
Israel has five co-sponsors on the resolution mired in committee, including Republicans Tom Cole (Okla.) and Aaron Schock (Ill.). He attempted the same resolution in the 112th Congress.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to the innocent men, women and children who have been and are being brutally murdered,” Israel said when introducing the bill. “Rep. Cole and I are calling on the U.N. Security Council to take action by demanding that President Assad is tried before the International Criminal Court for his horrific crimes against humanity. It is time to take action so this tragedy does not continue on our watch.”