Syria defended the U.S. embassy in Damascus yesterday against an attack by suspected Al-Qaeda operatives but was quick to blame the U.S. for it.

“It is regrettable that U.S. policies in the Middle East have fueled extremism, terrorism and anti-U.S. sentiment,” the Syrian Embassy in Washington said in a statement. “The U.S. should … start looking at the root causes of terrorism and broker a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”

“Root causes of terrorism”? Why, they hate us, of course. They hate democracy and freedom loving people.

Maybe Condoleezza Rice can talk this administration into talking with Syria and Iran.

Sunni Muslim extremists such as al-Qaida fiercely despise Assad’s regime because of its secular ideology and because his father, the late President Hafez Assad, led a crackdown on Muslim fundamentalists that killed thousands in the city of Hama in 1982. They also reject Assad’s rule because he belongs to the Shiite Alawite sect of Islam.

Assad has warned of an increasing Islamic threat against his country, saying al-Qaida militants are taking refuge in neighboring Lebanon.

But some opponents of his regime have claimed he is hyping the threat to score support with the United States, defuse international pressure and provide a pretext for Syrian meddling in Lebanon.

And George Bush seems to do everything he can to hype the threat of “Islamic fascists” whenever he can, as he did in his pathetic 9/11 Oval Office address. It’s no surprise why the GOP wants to foster this notion that our “War Against Terror” will go on a long time. They see it as a ticket to be punched every two years in November. They see it not as a long-term struggle for freedom but as the long-term ticket to their political dominance. So they encourage terrorists.

[Former CIA case analyst in Pakistan Marc] Sageman argues in his book, “Understanding Terror Networks,” that we are facing something closer to a cult network than an organized global adversary. Like many cults through history, the Muslim terrorists thrive by channeling and perverting the idealism of young people. As a forensic psychiatrist, he analyzed data on about 400 jihadists. He found that they weren’t poor, desperate sociopaths but restless young men who found identity by joining the terrorist underground. Ninety percent came from intact families; 63 percent had gone to college; 75 percent were professionals or semi-professionals; 73 percent were married.

What transformed these young Sunni Muslim men was the fellowship of the jihad and the militant role models they found in people such as Osama bin Laden. The terrorist training camps in Afghanistan were a kind of elite finishing school —

Sageman likened it to getting into Harvard. The Sept. 11 hijackers weren’t psychotic killers; none of the 19 had criminal records. In terms of their psychological profiles, says Sageman, they were as healthy as the general population.

The implication of Sageman’s analysis is that the Sunni jihadism of al-Qaeda and its spinoff groups is a generational phenomenon. Unless new grievances spawn new recruits, it will gradually ebb over time. In other words, this is a fire that will gradually burn itself out unless we keep pumping in more oxygen. Nothing in Sageman’s analysis implies that America should be any less aggressive in defending itself against terrorism. But he does argue that we should choose our offensive battles wisely and avoid glamorizing the jihadist network further through our rhetoric or actions.

Yet, Bush and his minions continue to demonize terrorists and those who would question his policy.

“I wonder if they are more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people,” said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. “They certainly do not want to take the terrorists on and defeat them.”

Fortunately, Democrats seem more willing to fight back this election cycle. And while the Dems and the GOP yell at each other, no one is talking to Syria and Iran that might help defuse the terrorist fervor.

Iran’s confidential response three weeks ago to an international proposal over its nuclear program offered extensive negotiations to resolve the standoff, but only if proceedings against Iran in the U.N. Security Council were stopped.

In a detailed and sometimes rambling document given to foreign governments, Iran stopped short of rejecting demands to halt its nuclear enrichment program, saying the issue could be resolved in talks. The response, closely held for weeks, was made public on a Web site Monday.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran does not intend to reject the whole issue unilaterally, and is ready to provide an opportunity for both sides to share their viewpoints on this issue and try to convince each other and reach a mutual understanding,” the document says.

I’m sure Bush will find a way to blow this opportunity as well.