he Obama administration is imposing financial sanctions that, for the first time, target Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad personally. The U.S. hopes to increase pressure on his regime, after a bloody crackdown that has killed more than 900 pro-democracy protesters. The economic measures against Assad and six other top officials are mostly symbolic — Assad probably doesn't have many assets in the U.S. to freeze. But the move marks a shift for the administration, which insisted Assad was a reformer, even after the violence began. Now, America has linked the embattled leader to human rights abuses. Will that about face do any good?
No, this is way too little, way too late: Too bad Obama didn't target Assad's wallet two months ago, says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Sanctions are almost always symbolic, but this gesture might have had real, positive impact if we had done it "when the demonstrations had momentum and before the regime had consolidated its grip." Now, the moment has passed. "As with sanctions on Iran and the intervention in Libya, Obama seems to have come to the right conclusion only after the moment when American leadership could have done the most good."
"The Assad sanction"
Actually, sanctions could help: "It remains to be seen how punishing sanctions will be," say Steven Lee Myers and Anthony Shadid in The New York Times, "but coordinated sanctions by the United States and Europe could have an economic bite." Similar sanctions against Libya's Moammar Gadhafi have resulted in the seizure of $36 billion in assets. And don't forget the political impact. This is the kind of direct punch "officials in Syria seem genuinely to fear."
"U.S. imposes sanctions on Syrian leader and 6 aides"
Hopefully, this is only a start: The sanctions against Assad "are useful, but not enough," says Michael Young at CNN. The U.S. must muster a broad international coalition, including Russia and China, to stand up and say that Assad has lost all legitimacy, and that it's time to let Syrians determine their own fate. "Obama has to take the lead in showing Assad the door."
"Sanctions aren't enough; Assad must go"
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