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To the rest of the world, Washington's broadside against Syria did little to allay anxieties about the exercise of American power. The usual chorus, France and Russia, warned that the Administration was making "dangerous" threats against Damascus. Even America's allies were taken by surprise. "It was never Britain's intention to take on Syria in this manner," says a London official. Only in the Arab world was there a sense of clarity: the bullying was all about placating Israel. Shaul Mofaz, Israel's Defense Minister, practically said as much in a newspaper interview: "Israel has a long list of issues we are thinking of demanding of the Syrians, and it would be best done through the Americans."
The war of words may prove to be an early test of the belief among Administration neoconservatives that the victory in Iraq could persuade recalcitrant Arab regimes to accede to U.S. demands. As Bush put it, "Syria just needs to cooperate with us." The U.S. apparently expects that by cranking up public pressure on Assad, it can extract concessions. The U.S. saber rattling, says a British official, has "made the Syrians sit up and think." And it has left many in the Middle East and elsewhere wondering, Exactly what does Washington have in mind for the neighborhood? --Reported by Scott MacLeod/Damascus, Aharon Klein and Matt Rees/Jerusalem, Timothy J. Burger and Massimo Calabresi/Washington and J.F.O. McAllister/London