The Syria Accountability Act: Taking the Wrong Road to Damascus

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On December 12, 2003, President Bush signedinto law the Syria Accountability and LebaneseSovereignty Restoration Act of 2003, a law designedto pressure Syrian president Bashar Assad's governmentto work more aggressively in fighting terrorismat home and abroad. Implementation of thenew measures, which combine punitive economicsanctions with diplomatic pressure, threatens toescalate into a new conflict in the Middle East.Some influential people in Washington welcomedsuch a confrontation, believing that it would lead toregime change in Damascus similar to the one thatwas effected in neighboring Iraq.

A replay of the invasion of Iraq, and the overthrowof yet another government in the region,would spell disaster for the United States. Someof the charges lobbed at Syria sound eerily similarto those leveled against Iraq before the war:support for terrorism and possession of weaponsof mass destruction. The Bush administrationfurther accuses Syria of facilitating the passageof busloads of jihadi fighters across its border tofight American troops in Iraq and of hidingsome of Saddam's missing weapons.

The sponsors of the Syria Accountability Actdirected their attention to Assad's government.But, although the Syria Accountability Act providesthe United States with a new collection ofsticks with which to beat Damascus, there areprecious few carrots to encourage continuedcooperation by Syria in the fight against AlQaeda. The Syria Accountability Act leads in thewrong direction in the fight against anti-Americanterrorists by escalating an unnecessaryconflict in the Middle East that will onlystrengthen those who wish us harm.

Claude Salhani

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).