October 22, 2021 | The Hill

Syria’s challenge to Tony Blinken’s conscience

October 22, 2021 | The Hill

Syria’s challenge to Tony Blinken’s conscience

Excerpt

The Nazi massacre at Babyn Yar claimed the lives of 33,771 Ukrainian Jews in September 1941. To mark the 80th anniversary of the massacre, Secretary of State Antony Blinken meditated on the lessons of the past. We must, he said, “recommit ourselves to ensuring that their full history is told, and pledge to act, every day, so that history is not repeated.” That notion is unobjectionable, even banal. Nonetheless, it is absent from the Biden administration’s policy toward Syria. Unrepentant, Bashar al-Assad continues preside over prisons that churn out emaciated corpses in a manner reminiscent of the Third Reich. Yet according to Blinken, the United States will no longer stand in the way of those who seek Assad’s diplomatic rehabilitation.

The secretary of state is the stepson of an Auschwitz survivor, whose rescue by an African-American GI he recounted during the opening remarks at his confirmation hearing. On Holocaust remembrance day in April, Blinken honored the civil servants who appealed to President Roosevelt when the State Department placed one barrier after another in the way of European Jews seeking refuge in the United States. Their effort changed the president’s mind, enabling tens of thousands to enter the country.

During the first weeks of his tenure, Blinken made a commitment to “put human rights at the center of U.S. foreign policy.” Initially, that extended to Syria. The administration pledged full implementation of the Caesar Act, the 2019 law that imposed expansive sanctions to isolate and hold accountable the Assad regime. “The world must renew its shared resolve to promote the dignity and human rights of all Syrians,” Blinken said in July, announcing sanctions on eight Syrian prisons and their overseers.

David Adesnik is a senior fellow and director of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (@FDD), a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) research institute focusing on foreign policy and national security. FDD does not accept donations from foreign governments.

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Issues:

Sanctions and Illicit Finance Syria