Neocons don’t like that the United States has an ambassador in Syria. Last year, Republican hawks blocked Robert Ford’s nomination to represent the U.S. in Damascus. But President Obama installed him in a recess appointment and Ford’s presence there during the pro-democracy uprising has been “impressive” — particularly his visit to Hama last month, where Syrian activists welcomed him with open arms. Nonetheless, Republicans and neocons aren’t giving up and still want him pulled anyway.
Ford is in Washington this week for his confirmation hearings and testified yesterday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Foreign Policy’s Blake Hounshell and Josh Rogin wrote before the hearing that Ford “will face a panel of Republican senators…who are eager to criticize what they see as the administration’s timidity in Syria.” Yet none showed up. In fact, one single senator, Democrat Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, had questions for Ford.
During the hearing, Ford stressed how important his presence in Syria is because he provides “more space for the Syrian people to express themselves” and works with the Syrian opposition. “It’s really important now to give Syrians an ear and to amplify their voices especially when the international media is barred from Syria,” he said. Later, he described his visit to Hama — which he described as one of the most “fascinating” experiences of his career — and reiterated how vital his role in Syria is:
FORD: First of all the protesters there are peaceful. As I think I mentioned, the one weapon I saw a slingshot. As I said these men are not gunmen. … But the second point I came with was, they are not against foreigners. We told them we were American diplomats and they said, “Oh! America! Great! Go ahead! Please pass!” … They’re not anti-American at all. In fact I think they appreciated the attention that the United States showed to their cause and that they were peaceful.
But the people in Hama and elsewhere are quite committed to change and I don’t think they’re going to stop. And so I think we owe it to them to remain supportive and it try to build that support wisely, carefully but to build that support.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has sharply criticized Obama on Syria and has called on him to withdraw Ford from Damascus. “I don’t understand their Syria policy,” he told Rogin yesterday, adding, “I wish there was a little more clarity on it, I’m sorry there isn’t.” Yet Rubio did not show up to hear Ford’s testimony or to ask him questions about the administration’s policy.