from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Confirm Robert Ford

September 22, 2011

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Diplomacy and International Institutions


New U.S. ambassador Robert Ford (R) talks with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after presenting his credentials to Assad, in Damascus January 27, 2011 (Courtesy Reuters/SANA).

The United States Senate must soon decide whether to confirm Robert Ford as Ambassador to Syria. He was sent there in a recess appointment that runs out at the end of this year.

When I last wrote about this, I applauded Ford’s diplomatic skills and suggested that "if Ford can serve as a sort of envoy to the Syrian people and to the growing opposition to the Assad mafia that rules, he can do a great deal of good in Syria. We saw the possibilities when he visited Hama and citizens greeted him with flowers." I noted the argument against confirmation as well: “Because the Obama Administration has been so painfully slow in reacting to the mass killings in Syria, many in the Middle East believe we remain uncertain about whether we want Assad to go. The Administration’s rhetoric has toughened in recent weeks, but it has not crossed the line and called for Assad to go. In this context, confirming Ford can be seen as sending an envoy to Assad instead of breaking with him. That problem can be solved if the White House finally does break fully with the regime and call for its end.”

The bottom line for me was this: “I hope that by September there will be good grounds for confirmation: the White House will have called upon Assad to go, and Ford will have shown (again, through classified information if need be) what good things he can do in Damascus.”

I believe there are now persuasive grounds for confirmation, and no classified information is needed. The Obama Administration has called upon Assad to go and Ambassador Ford has shown his determination to reach out to the Syrian people. In recent interviews he has expressed what I think is exactly the right attitude toward the regime, the people of Syria, and his own role there. The regime clearly sees him as an enemy and the demonstrators as an ally.

With all this in mind, Amb. Ford should be confirmed and encouraged to keep up the good work.