Barack Obama has decided to renew economic sanctions against Syria, describing it as continuing to pose ‘a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States’. His policy of engagement with Syria seems to be stalled, with Assad making few moves towards a warmer relationship and criticism mounting in America at any signs of rapprochement, such as the outcry over Obama’s proposed ambassador to Damascus. Despite Syria’s strategic importance, the Obama administration seems committed to a policy of isolation, as Damascus’s ties with Iran and Hizbollah show no sign of weakening. Tensions were recently ratcheted up even further by allegations that Syria had transferred Scud missiles to Hizbollah. One Syrian analyst described the US-Syria relationship as ‘coordinated non-touch dancing’, and it is unlikely that this will improve any time soon, given the domestic criticism faced by Obama, the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, and Syria’s warm relations with some of America’s betes noires. Joshua Landis points out that fundamental US incomprehension of the Syrian position will also prevent cooperation – neither Obama nor Clinton see the occupation of the Golan Heights as significant, and are effectively asking Syria to give them up. Furthermore, in a view marked by its ‘inverted logic’, they see Syria as posing a direct threat to Israel, when in fact it is Israel who are better armed and enjoy ‘military hegemony’.
The Syrian government has, unsurprisingly, denounced the renewal of sanctions, claiming it keeps the region ‘in a state of hostility’. None of this comes as a shock to Syria, given that the situation has been gradually worsening for months, yet they are still ‘disappointed’ at the news.