By Senator Bob Casey and Senator Marco Rubio
Two years ago, people in cities all over Syria took to the streets in peaceful protest of the Assad regime's oppressive police state. Looking at events in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, they were hopeful for change. Instead, they were met with brutal violence that has now become all-out war. Assad's closest ally, Iran, has sent advisors from its elite forces and empowered Lebanese Hezbollah to join the fight. In March alone, more than 6,000 Syrians were killed in the violence, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. More than 1.2 million Syrians are seeking refuge in neighboring countries, while millions more remain displaced inside Syria.
Bashar al-Assad mistakenly believes he is winning. He believes that raining bombs and Scud missiles down on his people, often razing entire neighborhoods, will scare them into submission. He has made insincere overtures towards dialogue and relies on protection and support from Russia, China, and Iran. We must change the calculus -- of Assad's inner circle, of his foreign enablers, and of his army -- so that they know they cannot win.
We recently introduced legislation that would help bring about such a change in U.S. policy. The bill would authorize additional humanitarian aid for the Syrian people, support for the political opposition, and non-lethal assistance for vetted elements of the armed opposition. It would seek to further isolate Assad by recommending additional sanctions against entities that still do business with his regime. The bill would also require a plan for addressing Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, so they cannot be used against civilians or Syria's neighbors.
Russia and China are blocking consensus at the UN Security Council that would allow the international community to take constructive steps to address this conflict. UN experts are prevented from crossing Syria's borders to provide much-needed aid. Instead, the UN must work either through the Assad government or in refugee camps across the border. International aid organizations are trying to fill that void, and local councils inside Syria and the opposition's Assistance Coordination Unit can also help to ensure that aid reaches those who need it. We should increase the aid provided across Syria's borders. We have the networks in place, the ACU has improved its capacity and international NGOs are well-positioned to do more. The Syrian people must see that America is working through all available channels to assist them in their hour of need.
Seeking to profit from the Syrian people's suffering, Russia also continues to supply Assad and his military with weapons, communications equipment, and cash. They work around existing sanctions to continue their lucrative relationships. Russia must be held to account. We cannot continue to let diplomatic flexibility stand in the way of our ability to disrupt the Assad regime's financial connections to the outside world by imposing tough sanctions on financial institutions that do business with the Syrian Central Bank and other banks in Syria.