FLASHBACK: Republicans Tried To Block Robert Ford’s Confirmation As U.S. Ambassador To Syria

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford

U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford traveled to the Syrian city of Hama last week “as a show of solidarity” with residents speaking out against Bashar al-Assad’s oppressive rule. Ford even joined a crowd of demonstrators protesting Assad’s regime on Friday and video shows Syrian activists welcoming him with roses and olive branches. One activist said he “felt protected” by Ford’s presence because the Syrian military wouldn’t fire on crowds with Western officials in attendance. “Thank u Mr. Ford, US Ambassador, in Hama among the protesters, and welcomed with flowers,” another Syrian activist said on Twitter.

For weeks, Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty have been attacking President Obama for not doing enough in Syria, saying that he should pull Ford out of Syria. “Words must be backed by clear, firm actions,” Rubio said, “we should now sever ties and recall the ambassador at once.” But if Republicans had their way, Ford never would have even made it to Syria. As Laura Rozen notes, Senate Republicans last year refused to confirm Ford, and several other ambassadors the President nominated, and Obama was forced to issue recess appointments.

Indeed, on May 14, 2010, twelve GOP senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton questioning the wisdom of sending an envoy to Damascus:

We are writing you to express our deep concern about the ongoing Syrian support for terrorism. … If engagement precludes prompt punitive action in response to egregious behavior, such as the transfer of long range missiles to a terrorist group, then it is not only a concession but also a reward for such behavior.

One official called Ford’s visit to Hama “gutsy,” and the move reportedly “was endorsed by the highest levels of the Obama administration.” Washington Institute for Near East Policy Syria expert David Schenker called Ford’s visit “impressive.” While Schenker said that Washington should be more vocal in support of Syria’s democracy movement, he told the Voice of America:

It is a significant statement for him to go to Hama and seemingly cast his lot, and the American lot, with the people of Syria, to provide some protection for the people of Hama, and to demonstrate where the United States’ sympathies and policies lie.

Rozen notes that Clinton criticized the notion of not talking to adversaries. “Diplomacy would be easy if we only had to talk to our friends,” she said.

“Having an ambassador in Syria has allowed us to be in Syria,” White House spokesperson Jay Carney said recently, adding, “I think that has been a useful avenue for us to pursue in terms of communicating our points of view.” But as Israel Policy Forum’s David Halperin said of the GOP’s plans to block Obama’s ambassador appointments, “Republicans think that U.S. interests are better advanced by not showing up.”