By Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and Rep. Todd Young

In The Hill:

Syria is in shambles.  Over the past five years, hundreds of thousands have been murdered by the Assad regime.  Scores of innocent men, women and children have been systematically tortured, gassed, and bombed.  Facing Assad’s war machine in one direction and ISIS in another, more than 14 million Syrians have fled their homes.

Through all the cruelty and chaos, the Obama administration’s response has been defined by inaction.  After abandoning his red line on the use of chemical weapons in 2011, President Obama has refused to assert U.S. influence to help address the root causes of what is now the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Last month, due to White House objections, Congressional Democrats backed away from bipartisan legislation that would impose stiff new sanctions on Syrian human rights abusers, as well as those nations – like Iran and Russia – who enable the Syrian regime’s atrocities.  It’s incredible that Congress has to push this commonsense measure to cut off resources to Assad’s butchers.  The White House has the authority to take many of these steps on its own, but it has refused to do so.

Alarmingly, this has become a trend.  Economic sanctions can serve as highly effective U.S. foreign policy tools, yet too often the Obama administration has failed to properly enforce sanctions against our adversaries. Over time, tepid implementation has damaged the effectiveness of our sanctions programs, and we fail to achieve our national security objectives as a result.

Consider the situation in North Korea.  For years, the president stuck to a policy of ‘strategic patience’ that even his own administration knew wasn’t working.  Only after the Kim regime conducted its fourth nuclear test in January did the Obama administration relent and allow new sanctions.  And even then, it has failed to aggressively enforce them.  The administration has yet to impose sanctions on the array of Chinese companies and banks that, according to a recent U.N. report, continue to support the North Korean regime.  Nor has it imposed sanctions on North Korea’s state-owned airline, which has flagrantly violated bans on luxury goods and been implicated in the proliferation of SCUD missile parts.

And then there is the case of Iran.  While selling his nuclear agreement to the American people, President Obama promised to continue to fully enforce existing sanctions on Iran for its illicit ballistic missile program, human rights abuses, and support for terrorism.  This has not happened.  Instead, Iran has accelerated their missile development, seized more American hostages, and fueled the bloodshed in Syria, while the White House has blocked bipartisan efforts to hold Iran accountable.

The administration’s reluctance to use financial pressure to confront the world’s worst actors has undermined our national security and credibility.  This in turn increases the likelihood of our men and women in uniform being sent into harm’s way.

To keep America safe, we must beef up U.S. sanctions programs which are designed to disrupt terrorist financing and deter our enemies. Sanctions must be more strictly monitored, evaluated and enforced.

The United States economy is still the strongest in the world and the reach of our financial institutions is incredible.  We must use this to our advantage, and confront the world’s terrorists and rogue regimes with overwhelming pressure from a position of economic strength.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) is Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Rep. Todd Young (R-IN) serves on the Ways & Means Committee and is the sponsor of The Improving Economic Sanctions Act of 2016.

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