Policy Analysis No. 512

The Syria Accountability Act: Taking the Wrong Road to Damascus

By Claude Salhani
March 18, 2004

Executive Summary

On December 12, 2003, President Bush signed into law the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, a law designed to pressure Syrian president Bashar Assad’s government to work more aggressively in fighting terrorism at home and abroad. Implementation of the new measures, which combine punitive economic sanctions with diplomatic pressure, threatens to escalate into a new conflict in the Middle East. Some influential people in Washington welcomed such a confrontation, believing that it would lead to regime change in Damascus similar to the one that was effected in neighboring Iraq.

A replay of the invasion of Iraq, and the overthrow of yet another government in the region, would spell disaster for the United States. Some of the charges lobbed at Syria sound eerily similar to those leveled against Iraq before the war: support for terrorism and possession of weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration further accuses Syria of facilitating the passage of busloads of jihadi fighters across its border to fight American troops in Iraq and of hiding some of Saddam’s missing weapons.

The sponsors of the Syria Accountability Act directed their attention to Assad’s government. But, although the Syria Accountability Act provides the United States with a new collection of sticks with which to beat Damascus, there are precious few carrots to encourage continued cooperation by Syria in the fight against Al Qaeda. The Syria Accountability Act leads in the wrong direction in the fight against anti-American terrorists by escalating an unnecessary conflict in the Middle East that will only strengthen those who wish us harm.

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Claude Salhani is foreign editor and a political news analyst with United Press International in Washington, DC. He is the author of Black September to Desert Storm (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998) and contributing author to The Iraq War (London: Brassey’s, 2003).