Entities from at least a dozen countries are helping supply the Syrian regime and military with various levels of support, enabling the Syrian government's war machine to continue functioning, according to a new report by Human Rights First, a New York and Washington-based NGO.
"President Obama has made stopping mass atrocities a ‘core national security interest' of the United States, which manifestly applies to Syria. As neighboring countries struggle to absorb the nearly one million refugees and regional powers become more involved in the conflict, the possibility of wider violence and instability looms," the report reads. "Amid calls to arm the rebels, we urge the United States to approach the conflict from the other end: to choke off the flow of arms, resources, and money to Assad."
The report was released in conjunction with Friday's two-year anniversary of the beginning of the Syrian uprising, which has now cost as many as 80,000 innocent lives, destroyed the Syrian economy, and displaced millions of Syrians inside and outside the country.
Human Rights First compiled data and first-hand accounts over several months to detail the sources of various types of support for the Syrian regime -- sources that go way beyond Iran and Russia, the Assad government's chief external backers. Here are some highlights:
The report notes that the supply chain supporting Assad passes through the legal jurisdictions of several countries where the United States has influence, and that several of the ships used to supply the Syrian regime fly flags of countries that are U.S. allies.
"Given its relationships with these countries -- as well as its political, economic, and military reach -- the United States is particularly well positioned to disrupt the supply chains," the report stated. "U.S. officials could and should enlist these countries in a systematic effort to deny Assad the support that is enabling atrocities."
Najib Ghadbian, the special representative to the United States from the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, endorsed the report in a statement to The Cable.
"The international community should heed the Human Rights First report and take action to reduce the violence in Syria by cutting off the regime's capacity for destruction," he said. "Human Rights First has demonstrated that several actors in the international community still provide the regime with funds and means to orchestrate their violent campaign with impunity."
At Friday's State Department briefing, Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland noted the anniversary of the beginning of the revolution and said that the people of Syria are in dire straits, but she defended the administration's policy, which has amounted to limited sanctions and humanitarian aid to both regime-controlled areas and parts of the opposition.
"I think nobody is satisfied with where we are in Syria, which is why the secretary [of state John Kerry], when he went to Rome for a meeting of the Friends of Syria and to meet with Syrian Opposition Coalition President [Moaz] Al-Khatib, encouraged everyone to do more," Nuland said. "And in fact, we are doing more on our own side, and as he said during the trip, we believe that the totality of increased effort by the international community ought to begin to make a difference into Assad's calculation."
In remarks on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) criticized the administration's policy as reinforcing "a dangerous and unfair fight" in which the Syrian government receives lots of international military support and the opposition struggles to defend civilians from the regime's onslaught.
"As the United States and the international community stand idle, the consequences are clear. Syria will become a failed state in the heart of the Middle East, threatening both our ally Israel and our NATO ally Turkey. With or without Assad, the country will continue devolve into a full-scale civil war that is increasingly sectarian, repressive, and unstable," he said.
"Meantime, more and more ungoverned space will come under the control of al Qaeda and its allies," McCain said. "Violence and radicalism will spill even more into Lebanon and Iraq, fueling sectarian conflicts that are still burning in both countries. Syria will turn into a battlefield between Sunni and Shia extremists, each backed by foreign powers, which will ignite sectarian tensions from North Africa to the Gulf and risk a wider regional conflict. This is the course we are on in Syria, and in the absence of international action, the situation will only get worse."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.