Chad Brand, a government relations officer for the Syrian American Council, told me that to go into effect, legislation H.R.31 has to navigate through a slew of obstacles and crossroads, each potentially killing or slowing it down. It brought to mind Hans Christian Andersen's "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" sailing a newspaper-made boat through the treacherous water of a gutter.
What happened: On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation H.R.31 to increase economic and financial pressure on the regime of Syria's President Bashar Al Assad. The bill must now pass Senate then goes to the White House for the president to sign into law.
Best case scenario: Everything goes into place and the bill is forwarded to the Senate who includes it in its agenda on Monday. It passes the Senate without any changes and returns to the House for debate and passage without the need for approval of additional amendments. Once it passes the House in late February or March, the bill then heads to the White House for the president to sign into law and it goes into effect by summer.
What to expect from H.R. 31? The bill contains "more targeted sanctions than the secondary sanctions under the Obama administration," Chad Brand said, pointing to certain sections related to the energy area, cooperation, military assistance, and propping up the Syrian regime with military aid. It goes beyond exports to Syria and into Russian military firms and individuals.
What to watch: Senator John Kennedy, R-La., announced an amendment to allow the President to use military force to protect Kurdish forces in northern Syria. The language is far from clear, however, as it provides very general authority to the President. Protection against whom? While the assumption is Turkey, what about Turkish-backed forces, the Euphrates Shield? The Assad regime? Pro-regime Iranian militias? How broad is the amendment's language?
The bottom line: The sanctions would have been more effective years back when the situation in Syria was different and the regime in a weaker position, Chad Brand said. The accountability for the committing of war crimes against Syrian civilians provisions of the bill could have had a stronger impact on family members and principals around the Syrian president in terms of defections over the concerns that these individuals might be brought to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in La Hague.
Nevertheless, the Syrian American Council, who advocated for H.R. 31, sees it as a necessary step.
"The sanctions and accountability language is much needed to maintain the illegitimacy of the Assad regime and take all active steps to prevent Damascus and its backers from continuing to carry out atrocities against the Syrian people, as the U.S. undertakes a military withdrawal from Syria and the situation in Idlib continues to unfold," Chad Brand said.