March 27, 2023 | Flash Brief

Lawmakers, Former Top Officials Offer Bipartisan Rebuke of Biden’s Syria Policy

March 27, 2023 | Flash Brief

Lawmakers, Former Top Officials Offer Bipartisan Rebuke of Biden’s Syria Policy

Latest Developments

Earlier today, an open letter to President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the administration’s passive response to Arab governments’ accelerating normalization of diplomatic ties with the Syrian regime and its leader, Bashar al-Assad. The letter’s three dozen bipartisan signatories included senior State Department officials from both the Obama and Trump administrations as well as retired U.S. generals and a range of scholars and activists.

Last Thursday, the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee sent a separate letter to Blinken and to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in which they objected to “the disappointingly slow pace of sanctions under the Caesar Act,” a human rights law that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support at the end of 2019.

Expert Analysis

“This is hardly the first bipartisan rebuke of Biden’s Syria policy, but the White House does not seem to be listening. The administration says it opposes normalization with Assad but will not lift a finger to stop it. Arab governments know the White House is only paying lip service when it says it wants to hold the Syrian regime accountable for its crimes against humanity. Furthermore, as the congressional letter indicated, Biden has simply abandoned any serious effort to enforce the Caesar law’s human rights sanctions. In fact, the administration is bending the law to promote regional energy deals that would deliver tens of millions of dollars to the Assad regime if the World Bank approves.” David Adesnik, FDD Director of Research and Senior Fellow

Saudi Arabia Pursues Normalization

Riyadh did not join the first rush toward normalization in the summer of 2021 sparked by the White House’s approval of Syria’s inclusion in regional energy deals. Yet the Saudi foreign minister signaled last month that a reversal was coming. Last week, Reuters reported that Riyadh and Damascus would move to restore diplomatic ties, which the Saudis broke off, like most Arab states, at the start of the Syrian civil war. The same day, Saudi state TV revealed that the two countries were already in talks to resume consular services.

As the most influential holdout from the trend toward normalization, Saudi Arabia has changed the diplomatic landscape with its reversal. However, only the United Arab Emirates and Oman have welcomed Assad as a guest, and the Arab League has yet to reverse its suspension of Syria.

Obama and Trump Officials Both Sign Open Letter

The open letter’s signatories included Jeffrey Feltman and Anne Patterson, career ambassadors who both held the top Middle East policy job at the State Department under Barack Obama. James Jeffrey and Joel Rayburn, who both served as special envoy for Syria under Donald Trump, also signed the letter, as did Jeffrey’s deputy, Ambassador William Roebuck, a career diplomat. Kenneth McKenzie, the four-star Marine Corps general who commanded U.S. forces in the Middle East under both Trump and Biden, also lent his support, as did a range of activists and experts from across the ideological spectrum.

Related Analysis

Across Party Lines, Senators Tell Bident to Get Tough on Assad,” by David Adesnik

The White House is Bending the Law on Syria Sanctions,” by David Adesnik

Syria’s Challenge to Tony Blinken’s Conscience


Arab Politics Syria