The Road for Damascus

More of a sideshow in the US war on terrorism, Syria hasn't been invaded like neighboring Iraq. Or warned with threats as North Korea or Iran - although it was almost listed in President Bush's "axis of evil" speech.

But finally this week, the hard-line secular regime in Damascus is due for some punishment from an administration long divided over whether Syria deserves more carrot than stick in dealing with its terrorist offenses.

Congress pushed Mr. Bush to act by approving a measure last November calling for sanctions on Syria if it didn't shape up. The move was driven as much by political pressure to help Israel as to protect the US.

But it's clear American patience with Syria's young leader, Bashar al-Assad, has run thin because of his tactical feints in helping the US with post-invasion Iraq, promoting of various terror groups, and toying with weapons of mass destruction. A Washington eager to reform the Middle East can't wait while Mr. Assad plays old games of conspiracy and half-steps, despite having 130,000 US troops next door in Iraq.

The latest Syrian game is to claim that it too is threatened by militant Islamists after a bombing in its capital on April 27. But Bush isn't buying it, and in imposing sanctions this week, he's decided Syria fits the category of being a nation against the US because Syria isn't doing enough to be with it in fighting terror.

He's expected to bar sales of dual-use items that could have military applications, and will likely to restrict US oil investments in Syria as well as Syrian planes flying to or over the US - for starters.

The Western-educated Assad may want to help the US, but he's surrounded by old generals who thrive off the business they've long enjoyed in Lebanon by having 20,000 troops occupy that country. (Syria also allows Iran to use Syrian soil to support the anti-Israel Hizbollah fighters in Lebanon.)

The worst offense is Syria's unwillingness to prevent foreign fighters from entering Iraq across a 400-mile border. It may be calculating that the US is on the run in Iraq and will soon exit. Bush has every reason to send Syria a stern signal of US resolve.

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