Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Caesar Act ushers in a new phase of suffering for Syrians



America has lost the proxy war in Syria and is now looking at punishing ordinary Syrians for the actions of the Syrian government. The so called ‘Caesar Act’, officially known as the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act, aims to cut off multilateral or direct commerce with Syria’s ruling Baath party, effectively inducing record inflation, poverty and market exclusion. 

Syrian refugee camp (Burak Kara/Getty Images)

Rebuilding the country after ten years of fighting would be near impossible if external contractors cannot be engaged without American economic retribution. That is effectively what the Caesar Act is designed to do, target the rebuilding of infrastructure, energy and state services. That means schools, hospitals and electricity plants.

Neighbouring Lebanon, which is facing its own economic collapse, would benefit from the rebuilding of Syria as one of its main trading partners, as such many Lebanese see America’s actions as also targeting their livelihoods. In the past few months American dollars have been withdrawn from Lebanese banks at record rates, which has led to the collapse of the Lebanese lira. Both Syria and Lebanon are now struggling to get access to the US dollar making it extremely difficult to trade internationally and access commodities.

The leverage America has with the US dollar being the reserve global currency forms part of its economic sanctions regime which has been in place since at least the Cuban missile crisis. Cuba, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea and Iraq, to name a few, have all and continue to be targeted by economic sanctions, often unilaterally by the US. As of 2019 America has almost 8000 sanctions in place globally. In Iraq alone US sanctions in the 1990s caused the death of an estimated 500,000 Iraqi kids. Madelaine Albright, US ambassador to the UN at the time, said the price was worth it.

Sanctions rarely accomplish the desired effect of changing a government’s political stance or their actions. One only needs to look at countries like Cuba, which have been under embargo for more than 50 years, to realise that their effectiveness is dubious and their consequences to ordinary people severe. In the age of the COVID-19 for example, sanctions on Iran meant that people and health professionals could not access essential medical supplies and medicines. In a paper published by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, it was estimated that US sanctions in 1995 cost the American economy $15 to $19 billion in lost export revenue which translated to a loss of 200,000 plus jobs. In today’s sanction heavy global economy that loss is likely to be much higher.

The war in Syria was however part of America’s larger project for the region, the so called new Middle East, which started with Iraq 2003, Lebanon in 2006, then Libya 2011 and was to continue beyond Syria into Lebanon again and eventually Iran. Basically, a reshaping of the power dynamics was being played out to remove any resistance to American hegemony in the region with the help of the petro-monarchies in the gulf namely Saudi Arabia and Qatar for money and Islamist fighters and Jordan and Turkey for logistics.


'America’s war of attrition against Syria has destroyed the country but not overthrown the government.'


Had Syria been defeated by the Islamist fighters, who hijacked the reform movement, Syria today would resemble Libya, a country run by mercenaries and warlords. While the Western media was cheering the ‘moderate rebels’ in Syria, the Islamists were chanting ‘Christians to Beirut and Alawis to the grave’. Ethnic and religious minorities would have been either driven out or killed by the so called ‘moderates’. Father Frans Van der Lugt, a Jesuit priest, was killed in 2014 for speaking out against the violent opposition groups in Syria as was Sheik al Bouti along with 40 others in a mosque in 2013. To suggest that these violent actors operating in Syria were ordinary protestors discontent with the authoritarian government seems naïve.

Tim Anderson, in his book The Dirty War on Syria, outlines how a massive propaganda and misinformation campaign was instituted against Syria and its President Bashar Al Assad. Anderson challenges the accepted, largely uncritical, narrative that what was happening in Syria was some kind of organic grass roots revolution. Rather in his estimation it was and still is a proxy war to defeat the remaining secular pluralist state in the Middle East. Syria remains the only independent Arab nationalist state that does not take orders from Washington, nor has it fallen into sectarian strife imposed from abroad.

America’s war of attrition against Syria has destroyed the country but not overthrown the government. The US has however won the media war and is in the process of making sure no one can assist the government or its people to rebuild. If lucrative contracts cannot be secured by America in post war Syria, then it will prevent others from doing so and the Syrian people will continue to suffer.



Daniel SleimanDaniel Sleiman is a freelance writer and journalist based in Canberra.

Main image: Syrian refugee camp (Burak Kara/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Daniel Sleiman, Syria, US, Turkey, Libya, Lebanon, Caesar Act



submit a comment

Existing comments

Thanks for this article, Daniel. Our popular news outlets have moved on from Syria, as they have from Libya, Yemen, Palestine, etc. Your article highlights that international forces and local lives remain at play, and that it is not good enough for a country like Australia to adopt the generally accepted narrative. Nor is it acceptable for us to not prioritise the wellbeing of the Syrian people.

Denis Fitzgerald | 25 June 2020  

Daniel, The problem is we don't know who to believe since information from all sides is slanted to their perspective.In an era of "Fake News" truth is the greatest casualty. There is no doubt that thousands of innocent civilians have been killed, millions are homeless and are now refugees, who are straining the resources of other countries in the region .The biggest winner seems to be Russia. The U.S. policy in the Middle East is in tatters, not helped by an unpredictable President Trump.

Gavin O'Brien | 26 June 2020  

I can’t tell whether your interpretation of America’s role is an accurate one. How can I, so safe and far away? But, on the basis that it’s so unbelievably evil that it must be true, I accept it. Once more the least powerful will bear the burden of the most powerful, while fresh seeds of anger and resentment are planted in the blood-soaked soil. Prose getting a bit purple? Yes, but what else is suitable as a response? Thank you, Daniel, for not letting us forget.

Joan Seymour | 27 June 2020  

Outside intervention in the Middle East never seems to be in the interests of its inhabitants but in the perceived interests of those intervening, witness the Sykes-Picot Agreement and Western intervention to assist in the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh government in Iran. I weep for Syria and Lebanon and their people and so many others in the Middle East.

Edward Fido | 16 July 2020