Op Ed by Congressman Darrell Issa
June 03, 2004 - Darrell Issa
Members of USA Congress
On May 12, President Bush made history, becoming the first President of the United States to finally hold Syria to account for its occupation of Lebanon. Past American Presidents have criticized Syria's occupation of Lebanon, but none have taken definitive actions aimed at achieving Lebanese sovereignty. By taking the unprecedented step of sanctioning Syria for, among other issues, its occupation of Lebanon, President Bush has shown sincere leadership on this issue that is so dear to Lebanese all over the world.
The sanctions were levied as part of the President Bush's enforcement of the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act (SALSRA). The President banned U.S. exports to Syria except for food and medicine, prohibited Syrian aircraft from flying to and from the United States, and agreed to freeze Syrian assets and end relations with the Syrian national bank.
While these actions will have only a minimal impact on the already heavily-sanctioned Syrian regime, they send clear signal to that regime: the days are numbered for Syria's Soviet-style domination of Lebanon.
As a Member of Congress, I had the opportunity to carefully follow the progress of the SALSRA as it moved through the legislative process. Early in the process, the President opposed the bill, asking Congress for time to engage the Syrians on issues of concern to the United States. I agreed with the President and pushed the Syrians very hard, traveling to Damascus four times and regularly meeting with top Syrian diplomats in the United States.
After months of repeated warnings and tireless diplomatic engagement, the President lifted his opposition to the SALSRA, signaling to the Syrians that they had run out of time. I voted with the vast majority of my colleagues in Congress to pass the bill into law.
Now President Bush has led us into a new era in the history of Lebanon. He has demonstrated to Syria and the international community that the United States will follow through on its demand that Syria withdraw from Lebanon.
These sanctions are the first of many steps on the path to self-government for Lebanon. While sanctions alone will not guarantee Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, they can be effectively used to motivate Syria to fix its many deficiencies, including its occupation of Lebanon. A careful use of both stick and carrot by the President can bring real change to Lebanon.
President Bush's commitment has opened a new window of opportunity for all Lebanese who crave freedom for the land of their ancestors. This November, all Lebanese-Americans should remember that this President has begun the process of restoring sovereignty for Lebanon. This process should not be interrupted.
Darrell Issa
Members of Congress
211 Cannon Building
Washington, D.C. 20515