The Syrian civil war was sparked when Assad’s government brutally suppressed massive civil demonstrations that had been inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions in 2011. Over the last three years the conflict has morphed into a war of attrition between Assad’s forces in the western portion of the country and rebel forces in the north, east and south.
Fundamentalist Sunni soldiers aligned with the Islamic State (IS) have become the strongest rebel force in Syria, expanding the fight into northern Iraq in their attempt to create an Islamic caliphate. Secular and moderate rebels, caught between Assad’s barrel bombs and the fanatical violence of the IS, are rapidly being squeezed out of the conflict. Violations against Syrian civilians have included attacks on medical workers and others.
S. 960 expresses support for the Syrian civilian population and a desire to help the country transition into a peaceful democracy. To accomplish this goal, the bill contains five sweeping proposals:
- Perhaps most importantly — this bill would give the President the green light to give military assistance to the Syrian Supreme
Military Council, the Free Syrian Army, and other rebel groups.
Recipients of this aid would be strongly encouraged to strive for a
state free of weapons of mass destruction. They would also be asked to
abide by a code of military conduct that prohibits sectarian violence and revenge attacks.
- Directs the Secretary of State to create a strategy for helping Syria’s political transition. This report would address the threats posed by extremist groups (specifically those that target civilians), sectarian and ethnic violence, the proliferation of weapons, and the displacement of refugees. It would also include proposals for engaging international partners in helping Syria rebuild itself.
- Authorizes the President to deliver humanitarian assistance to Syrians through the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. It would also encourage the President to solicit aid from the U.N., support refugee assistance programs in countries bordering Syria, and press for greater international participation in bring basic services to Syrian refugees and civilians.
- Establishes a temporary Syria Transition Fund (STF). This is meant to give Syrians the financial ability to transition into a democratic government. The things the STF can be spent on are not limited to any one venture: democracy promotion, security support, assistance with basic services, regional stabilization, repairing the economy, and creating new judicial tools. In short, anything to rebuild civil society.
- Sanctions, sanctions, sanctions. This section authorizes the President to order two or more sanctions on any person who in any way helped Assad’s government acquire military assets. The President is also authorized to impose three or more sanctions on any person who helped Assad’s government acquire petroleum. On top of this, the President would have the power to prohibit foreign financial institutions from opening certain types of accounts in the U.S. if they helped Assad buy weapons or petroleum.