The controversial move reverses the Bush administration's decision to withdraw its ambassador from Damascus in 2005.
The Obama administration's decision to return an ambassador to Syria after a four-year absence reflects the president's desire to start making good on a pledge to broaden American diplomacy to include dialogue with adversaries.
The move, announced formally to the Syrians Tuesday night, also hints at how seriously Obama takes both his initiative to spur Israeli-Palestinian peace and his intention to mend US relations with the Arab world.
"We've heard a lot of good language from Obama about our relations with Arab countries, most recently in Cairo, but he's actually done very little in terms of concrete steps," says Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma and author of the SyriaComment blog. "So normalizing relations with Syria is a small demonstration that we really are changing our approach to the region."
Out, the move suggests, is the Bush administration's preference for ostracizing problematic countries and openly advocating regime change.
In, on the other hand, is a more pragmatic approach that sees US interests served by garnering information and intelligence from prickly or even adversarial relationships.