The Magazine

Bashing Bashar

From the April 28, 2003 issue: A plan of action.

Apr 28, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 32 • By MARC GINSBERG
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Now, U.S. forbearance may be running out. President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld have launched a rhetorical "shock and awe" campaign against Syria, raising the spectre of armed conflict. Indeed, if Syria continues on its present path, it may qualify as Iraq's replacement in the Axis of Evil.

In case Damascus is hard of hearing, what the administration seeks is: an immediate end to support for jihadists and Hezbollah members entering Iraq from Syria; a full accounting and repatriation of senior Iraqi Baath party officials and members of Saddam's entourage who have been provided sanctuary in Syria; cessation of Syrian support for Hezbollah and expulsion of terrorists from Syrian soil; an agreement to end its weapons of mass destruction programs and accede to international nonproliferation accords; and the cleansing of the terror nests in the Bekaa Valley.

Shortly, Secretary of State Colin Powell will be heading to Damascus to pursue these objectives. There are several steps the administration should take to "shape the diplomatic battlefield" for his mission:

(1) The Bush administration should reverse itself and support passage of the Syria Accountability Act of 2002, which would impose economic sanctions on Syria for its continued support of terror and occupation of Lebanon.

(2) The Kirkuk pipeline, through which Syria illegally received over 200,000 barrels of Iraqi oil per day at half the world price, should be kept closed until Syria has complied with Washington's demands.

(3) The administration should invoke a provision of the 2001 USA Patriot Act that permits the United States to "confiscate" and "liquidate" property belonging to a foreign country that aids U.S. enemies during wartime. According to last week's Wall Street Journal, Syria has an estimated $133 million in assets in the United States, including $43 million in securities held by Syrian nationals and entities.

(4) Without so much as an additional executive order, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control can prevent U.S. companies from continuing to do business with Damascus by imposing foreign assets controls on U.S. financial transfers to Syria.

(5) The United States should oppose the granting or extension of any credits or loans to Syria by multilateral institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

(6) The United States should urge Turkey to cooperate in a regional effort to alter Syria's conduct by threatening to reduce the flow of water from Turkey into Syria's watershed.

(7) The United States should end its silence about Syria's nearly 30-year control of Lebanon. Nothing would embarrass Damascus more than a U.S.-sponsored resolution before the U.N. General Assembly calling for the cessation of Syria's colonial rule, backed up by similar efforts in other multilateral forums.

(8) During the upcoming G-8 summit in Evian, the administration should urge participants to join it in imposing trade sanctions against Syria in hopes of avoiding a military confrontation between the United States and Syria.

(9) Finally, it is time to sanitize the Bekaa Valley, which has become a refuge for every major terrorist organization not headquartered in Damascus. Last April, ABC News reported that a veritable predators' ball of terror organizations, including representatives of al Qaeda, attended a secret meeting in the Bekaa to plot against the United States--a meeting evidently condoned by Syria.

An outright attack on Syria should be a last resort, but our efforts to democratize Iraq will be greatly hindered if Syria persists in its meddling. Perhaps Bashar Assad will heed American warnings. If not, we may soon have a chance to see a shooting star falling over the skies of Damascus.

Marc Ginsberg is a former U.S. ambassador to Morocco and chair of the Alliance for American Leadership, a Democratic foreign policy organization.