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Senate Push to Help Syria Brings Rubio, Boxer Together

A new bipartisan resolution calls on the president to give material and technical assistance to the Syrian opposition.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

February 15, 2012 - 1:07 pm

The Syrian uprising is a year old and bloodier than ever as tyrant Bashar al-Assad digs in even further and refuses to give in to the fate of fellow dictators in the Arab Spring.

With a death toll conservatively estimated at more than 6,000 Syrian civilians and defectors — including brave members of the Syrian armed forces who refused to open fire on peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators — the global community has been seesawing between cries to do something to stop to the bloodshed and being stymied over how to stop the massacres.

Not surprisingly, that help won’t come from the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China proved yet again that those who oppress basic human rights and the rule of law happily jump into bed together and stay tight under the covers.

And as horrible tales of Syrian suffering continue to reach the world via social media and the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice is on a trip to Haiti.

Though their effectiveness may prove little more than drawing attention to the plight of those in Homs, Hama, Damascus, and beyond, members of Congress are trying to fill the intervention void.

And the effort to help Syrians is bringing together some unusual legislative pairings — like Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Rubio and Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) introduced a resolution last Friday that calls on Assad to step down from power, “strongly condemns” Russia and Iran for giving the regime military aid, and encourages President Obama to keep slapping sanctions on human-rights violators in Syria.

It also “urges the President to support an effective transition to democracy in Syria by identifying and providing substantial material and technical support, upon request, to Syrian organizations” and urges the State Department to devise a strategy to “encourage defections” from the Syrian military.

“The Syrian people can’t expect Assad to heed calls for his departure, nor can they rely on the United Nations to act,” Rubio, also a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said. “For the sake of innocent lives in Syria and the security of the entire region, the United States must keep up the pressure on the regime and begin planning for a post-Assad Syria. We need to hasten Assad’s departure from power and also lay the groundwork for the difficult path towards a true inclusive democracy.”

The Casey-Rubio resolution also calls for greater U.S. cooperation with Turkey and members of the Arab League and EU in crafting a “robust humanitarian assistance” strategy that includes establishing safe havens along the borders.

“The regime’s brutal violence has torn the country apart, and threatens to destabilize the entire region,” said Casey, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs. “The international community can and should do more to support the people of Syria during this terrible hour in their history.”

Co-sponsors on the resolution’s introduction were Boxer and Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). Since then, Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) have also signed on.

Last month, Gillibrand introduced the Syria Human Rights Accountability Act of 2012 along with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a sanctions bill that prohibits the sale of technology or weapons to Syria, by any companies seeking to do business with the United States, that would be used for censorship or human rights abuses in the country.

“The tough sanctions I introduced to crack down on Syria’s energy sector which funds the development of nuclear weapons and supports terrorists isn’t enough,” Gillibrand said then in reference to her August bill, the Syria Sanctions Act of 2011. “This new bill is an important step to end the bloodshed by the Syrian government and provide the Syrian people with tools needed to take back their own country.”

The only other co-sponsor on the bill is Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

In the House, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) introduced the Syria Freedom Support Act with New York Democrat Eliot Engel in an effort to strengthen existing sanctions against Damascus and target the regime’s “Achilles heel — its energy sector.” The bill was placed on the Union Calendar, which schedules bills involving financial issues.

Ros-Lehtinen’s spokesman told me that she intends to mark up the bill in committee in the coming weeks.

Rubio and Casey also joined a resolution effort helmed by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) last May, which had 26 co-sponsors, got stuck in the Foreign Relations Committee and “urges the United Nations Human Rights Council to swiftly implement United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution S-16/1 and to ensure that the international investigation into violations by the Government of Syria of international human rights law called for in the resolution is undertaken immediately; and reinforce the crucial need for the United Nations General Assembly to reject Syria’s candidacy for membership on the Human Rights Council and terminate the consideration of Syria’s candidacy.”

The new resolution commends the Arab League efforts “to bring about a peaceful resolution in Syria,” but offers no praise for and makes no requests of the United Nations.

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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