LETTER FROM SYRIA….Matthew Longo reports from Damascus that support for the Syrian regime is considerably less enthusiastic than the Syrian regime claims it is:

Monday’s rally…was designed to make the government look strong, popular and credible…. But things are not always as they seem. Syrian broadcast news announced that there were up to 1 million people in attendance. More credible accounts put the number of actual protesters at about 10,000. Of these, most were schoolchildren, whose participation was obligatory. The main speeches were slated for 2 p.m., but by 10:30 a.m. most of the crowds had left, preferring to take lunch or idle through the city. By noon, the square was almost empty….

But let’s be clear: Dissatisfaction with the current regime does not translate into support for the West….Most Syrians feel stuck between two unappealing options. “Everybody is frustrated,” said one student at the University of Damascus, “because we hate George Bush, but we also know that the regime is guilty.”

Condoleezza Rice has done better as Secretary of State than I thought she would, but this is likely to be her toughest test to date. If she can manage to thread this needle in a way that produces a positive outcome ? or even a mediocre one ? she’ll deserve some praise. If she lets Cheney order an airstrike, on the other hand, then not so much.