Are We “Tolerating” Syria?

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This week’s issue of The Weekly Standard features a classic bit of neoconservative logic. David Schenker, a former Defense Department advisor and resident scholar at the Near East Policy Institute in Washington, argues that the Bush administration is “in effect tolerating the Baathist dictatorship” in Syria. Now it’s been just over three months since the US imposed its harshest-ever sanctions on the country; two years since the passage of the Syrian Accountability Act; and a mere three years since the Syrian government was deemed a “top target” for regime change at the hands of the US military. Yet in Schenker’s view, all this shows is the administration’s faintheartedness.

One thing Mr. Schenker seems to be short on is alternatives. What should the Bush administration be doing? While many experts agree that this administration’s Syria policy has been uninspired, even ambivalent, the more frequent conclusion among scholars is that “diplomatic engagement,” or at least constructive dialogue, is the best way to handle Syria. Chiding the Bush administration for “tolerating” Bashar Assad implies that we ought to do to Syria what we did to Iraq. Unfortunately for Mr. Schenker, that would be a tall order for the US military at present. So somewhere amidst all that lambasting of Damascus, it would be helpful if he could provide us with some other, more productive ideas.

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