With Syria sanctions, U.S. fires shot across bow

In this citizen journalism image taken on a mobile phone May 6, 2011, and acquired by The Associated Press, Syrian anti-government protesters carry a banner during a rally in the central city of Homs, Syria.
AP Photo

The Obama administration slapped sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad and several others on Wednesday for human rights abuses over their brutal crackdown on anti-government protests, for the first time personally penalizing the Syrian leader for actions of his security forces.

CBS News national security analyst Juan Zarate reports that the sanctions are a shot across the bow, and mark a shift in U.S. policy. While on the surface they are merely financial sanctions, they also contain a hidden message: reform or step down.

Fundamentally, the sanctions are the first step towards a more confrontational policy. The administration is essentially locking itself into a conflict with the Assad regime.

The executive order issuing the sanctions is an attempt to change the Syrian regime's behavior, but it won't stop Assad's regime from continuing its crackdown on dissidents and democracy seekers, which has killed around 850 people to date.

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Syrian president gets first-ever sanctions by US

The sanctions may also encourage more protests, because the Syrian people could see this as a sign that the U.S. is on their side. Tensions are probably going to escalate. Our policies might not involve the use of military force, but the Obama administration has started down a path where they may eventually push for regime change.

In a press release, the Treasury Department said the six government officials in Syria being sanctioned are: Bashar al-Assad, president; Farouk al-Shara, vice president; Adel Safar, prime minister; Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, minister of the Interior; Ali Habib Mahmoud, Minister of Defense; Abdul Fatah Qudsiya, head of Syrian Military Intelligence; and Mohammed Dib Zaitoun, director of Political Security Directorate. Additionally, several other people and entities related to Syrian intelligence and its military are being sanctioned.

The release states that "any property in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which the individuals listed...have an interest is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them."

The move comes as Assad said his security forces had made mistakes during the two-month uprising and blamed poorly trained police at least in part for the crackdown that has killed more than 850 people.

While Assad acknowledged mistakes, he also suggested in statements published Wednesday that the current "crisis" was nearing its end, even as attacks raged.