Last year, President Obama recess appointed career diplomat Robert Ford to be U.S. ambassador to Syria after Senate Republicans refused to confirm him to the post. Republicans claimed that sending an envoy to Damascus would be rewarding bad behavior. Now that Ford has shown the merits of a high-level U.S. presence in Syria, particularly since the pro-democracy uprisings there, some who opposed Ford’s confirmation have changed their minds. Yet the Washington Post reported last week that a Senate GOP aid said some Republican senators will probably place a hold on Ford’s confirmation (his recess appointment expires at the end of the year).
In an interview with the Daily Caller, Ford urged these senators to reconsider:
Also significant, Ford said, is his presence as a personal representative of the American president, which is why he says it is imperative the Senate officially confirm him.
“Lower level diplomats are great, but they don’t carry the weight, they don’t carry the prestige of the president’s personal representative,” he explained.
Ford also expanded on the nature of the Syrian opposition. “I’m sorta amazed that they’re not fucking crazy,” he said, adding that it’s likely that any government that emerges in a post-Assad era will be a secular one:
“My own sense is, from my own discussion with Syrians, is that the Islamist element is actually not very strong in this country,” he argued. “The Muslim Brotherhood is pretty much stamped out by Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad. And so most of the Islamists that are active politically are outside of Syria.”
“I think the internal opposition, there are absolutely Islamists among them,” he continued. “When you look at the street protests, they are on Fridays, so there is probably an element of people being in mosques and then going to the protests, but there are plenty of people who don’t go to the mosques but are also marching… It is a pluralistic kind of opposition.”
Ford also said that while demonstrators welcomed him when he traveled to Hama in July to join them in “solidarity,” they aren’t necessarily waving American flags. Why not? The invasion of Iraq and baggage from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I will be honest with you, the reputation of the United States after Iraq and after our policies with respect to the Israeli/Palestinian dispute, a lot of Syrians look at us with very mixed emotions,” he said.
The New York Times reported this week that the Obama administration is leaving Ford in Damascus “so he can maintain contact with opposition leaders and the leaders of the country’s myriad sects and religious groups” in order to avoid chaos in the event of the fall of dictator Bashar Al-Assad.
In a post titled, “Has Ford earned his ambassadorship?” right-wing blogger Jen Rubin passes on a quote from neocon Robert Kagan: “I understand why people had doubts about keeping an ambassador in Syria, but circumstances have changed. At this stage, it is important that Ford remain in Damascus, and the Senate should confirm him as soon as possible.”