Last year, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), “acting on his party’s behalf,” blocked Robert Ford’s confirmation as the next U.S. ambassador to Syria. While President Obama ended up using his power to recess appoint Ford to the position, in a May 14, 2010 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, twelve Senate Republicans complained that sending an envoy rewarded Syria for its support for terrorism.
The Senate still must confirm Ford if he is to remain at his post. His visit last month to the Syrian city of Hama — which has recently been under assault by the Syrian military — drew wide praise. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who opposed Ford’s confirmation last year, now says he supports it and he is urging his colleagues to follow suit. And as The Cable reported yesterday, “Congress is warming to the idea of confirming” Ford. Or is it?
A Coburn aide told ThinkProgress that the Oklahoma senator “continues to stand by the concerns outlined” in the May, 2010 letter to Clinton. Moreover, the same aide did not respond to repeated inquiries into whether that statement meant Coburn still opposes having Ford as U.S. ambassador or that he will again block his confirmation. ThinkProgress also contacted most of the Republicans that co-signed the letter to Clinton asking if they still oppose sending Ford, or any other envoy, to Syria and none responded.
Giving some insight into the GOP’s thinking, the Cable reported that “[s]ome on Capitol Hill don’t like the optics of the United States confirming an ambassador to Syria while other countries withdraw their envoys as a means of registering their opposition to Assad’s crackdown”:
“Senator Lieberman is one of the great national security leaders of this generation, and Robert Ford is a skilled diplomat, but it makes no sense to have an American ambassador in Damascus now,” one senior GOP congressional aide told The Cable. “It’s a sad day when the Saudi king has greater moral clarity than the president of the United States.”
While it’s unclear how exactly having an ambassador in Syria means President Obama lacks “moral clarity,” the neocons at the Foreign Policy Initiative offered a similarly confusing explanation as to why Ford should be recalled. “It is doubtful that, if confirmed by the Senate, Ford will be allowed by the Assad regime to be an effective voice for the United States,” FPI executive director Jamie Fly wrote yesterday, adding, “unless the administration is prepared to use Ford as a proactive envoy to the Syrian people, the White House should seriously consider keeping him in Washington.”
But as evidenced by his visit to Hama, and his Senate testimony last week, Ford is already a “proactive envoy to the Syrian people.” Ford is not there to be “an effective voice for the United States,” as Fly said. As Ford said last month, “This is not about Americans, it is about the way the Syrian government mistreats its own people.” And he told the Senate last week, “It’s really important now to give Syrians an ear and to amplify their voices especially when the international media is barred from Syria.”