Joshua Landis and Steven Simon detail the cruel and destructive effects of U.S. sanctions on the people of Syria:
The Trump administration designed the sanctions it has now imposed on Syria to make reconstruction impossible. The sanctions target the construction, electricity, and oil sectors, which are essential to getting Syria back on its feet. Although the United States says it is “protecting” Syria’s oil fields in the northeast, it has not given the Syrian government access to repair them, and US sanctions prohibit any firm of any nationality from repairing them – unless the administration wishes to make an exception. Such an exception was recently made for a US firm to manage the oil fields, but oil leaks continue to drain into the Khabour and Euphrates Rivers. US sanctions not only punish people, who receive only an hour or two of electricity a day, but also poison their environment.
The sanctions even prevent non-U.S. aid organizations from delivering reconstruction assistance. Humanitarian exemptions are deliberately vague, as are the requirements that the Syrian government would have to meet in order to obtain sanctions relief. Such uncertainty is meant to deter aid suppliers and investors who might otherwise help Syria rebuild but who can’t be wholly confident that they are in the clear to do so. This chilling effect, known as overcompliance, is a rational response to the fear of inadvertent entanglement in complex legal issues that could destroy a nongovernmental organization or a firm.
Blocked from reconstructing their country and seeking external assistance, Syrians face “mass starvation or another mass exodus,” according to the World Food Program.
Current US sanctions on Syria are among the most extensive and sweeping on any country in the world. Like sanctions on Venezuela and Iran, they are meant to inflict pain on the entire population in order to punish them for the actions of governments they do not control. Crippling Syria’s ability to rebuild from the war will cause more suffering to a population that has already endured more than eight years of conflict. There is no discernible American interest that is served by “competing with Assad over who can hurt Syrian peasants more,” as Landis and Simon put it, but as of right now that is the policy that our government is pursuing. This policy is exacerbating a humanitarian crisis in Syria, and it threatens to trigger a new refugee crisis that will have consequences for all of Syria’s neighbors and for Europe. It is very destructive and needlessly destabilizing. There is nothing peaceful about waging economic war on entire nations.