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Duplicity in Damascus

The complicated relationship between Syria and al Qaeda.

12:00 AM, Oct 31, 2008 • By DAVID SCHENKER
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During the presidential debates, there were sharp disagreements as to how Washington should best treat rogue states. Regardless of whether the next administration is led by Barack Obama or John McCain, however, many observers believe that Washington will look to reengage in high-level diplomacy with Damascus and perhaps even consent to mediate Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations. Indeed, there are some indications that the Bush administration is already pursuing this tack.

Changing Syria's orientation would be of great benefit, but experience suggests it's not a realistic hope. While many excuse Syrian ties to Hamas and Hezbollah as "cards" that will someday be traded during negotiations, the revelations about the ties to al Qaeda highlight just how inimical the Assad regime's worldview is to U.S. interests. Support for terrorism appears to be intrinsic to the regime. Given this dynamic, U.S. diplomacy with Damascus stands little chance of success.

David Schenker is the director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute.