We really don't have much leverage with Syria because we have so little trade with them. But these sanctions are designed to hit President Assad, his family, and his cronies where it hurts; in their personal pocketbooks.
With international pressure intensifying on Assad over his brutal crackdown on protests, one U.S. official said the Obama administration is expected to lay out a tougher line this week. But a source familiar with the situation said while a decision was expected soon, the timing had not yet been finalized.
The Treasury Department expanded sanctions against Assad's government and inner circle, adding Syria's largest commercial bank and mobile phone operator to a blacklist of companies slapped with asset freezes and barred from doing business in the United States.
The White House reasserted President Barack Obama's view that Assad has "lost legitimacy" and Syria "will be a better place" without him, but again stopped short of specifically calling on him to leave power.
But in response to months of criticism of Obama's failure to demand Assad's departure, his administration was preparing to speak out more forcefully.
The White House has been cautious because of its limited influence with Damascus and questions about its ability to force Assad to heed any U.S. call to leave power, which could further undercut U.S. credibility in the region.
Calling for Assad to step down would be nice, but the White House is probably right that it would make us look pretty impotent when Assad ignores us. The administration hasn't done very well managing the Syria crisis so we can expect them to botch this as well.