by RAY FLEMING

IF President Bush wants to patronise, threaten and insult leaders of other nations he should do it himself. Instead he sends a boy - his press spokesman Ari Fleischer - on what is a man's job. This is what Mr Fleischer said about the President of Syria at his briefing for the White House press corps on Monday: “President Basher Assad is a young leader. He is an untested leader. He has his chance to be a leader who makes the right decisions. We hope he does.” The arrogance and self–righteousness pervading the White House these days are breathtaking and frightening. Fortunately there are signs that even Downing Street is worried about the “Syria next” messages coming from Washington. In the House of Commons Mr Blair was categoric that he knew of no plans for military action against Syria and yesterday Jack Straw specifically contradicted Ari Fleischer's judgement of President Assad, saying: “My experience of meeting President Bashar and Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa is that these are intelligent people who have the future interests and welfare of their country at heart.” But yesterday Israel's Ariel Sharon echoed Ari Fleischer's words by saying that President Assad “does not have the ability to reach the right conclusions from relatively obvious facts”. More arrogance and insult. I wonder if it has occurred to Mr Fleischer that President Assad has been in office for almost exactly the same length of time as President George W Bush and also had the advantage of being the son of a politically experienced father?

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