The current war talk about Syria is, I hope, just talk – Syria is not, to say the very least, a nice place (Stephen Pollard has more details in this disturbing piece from the Telegraph), but there are – a few – signs that the younger Assad might be attempting to move things in a somewhat less malevolent direction. The example of Iraq should speak for itself, and provide, shall we say, a little encouragement for somewhat better behavior on the part of the Syrian regime. Circumstances may change, but choosing this moment to push Assad deeper into his own Baathist laager won’t help, nor will it resonate well elsewhere in the Islamic world. I’m not the only person today to recall that Teddy Roosevelt believed in both the big stick and soft talk. It’s time for a little of the latter – certainly for now. Least helpful of all are today’s comments from Ariel Sharon on this topic – Israel has many legitimate grievances against Syria, but any suggestion that the man who the Arab world most likes to demonize has (to quote the London Times) ‘a list of demands for Washington to present to Damascus’ is likely to be highly counterproductive to US efforts, to put it mildly.