When President Obama said he intended to fill the five-year vacancy at the U.S. embassy in Damascus, Syria, Republicans went wild, expressing opposition to an appointment and, eventually, blocking confirmation. Last December, Obama gave a recess appointment to Ambassador Robert Ford. With that appointment slated to expire at the end of the year, some conservatives continued to insist that Ford should be recalled or signaled that they again intend to block his confirmation.
But the tide — even among conservatives — has begun turning in favor of Ford’s confirmation as he’s established himself in a critical role as the Syrian government’s continued a months-long deadly crackdown against non-violent anti-government protests. The change came when Ford put his own life on the line to reach out to the Syrian opposition, even going so far as to join protesters in the street in a “show of solidarity.” Ford has also become the lynchpin of a U.S. policy now looking beyond the rule of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad.
The latest conservative turn toward Ford came from Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). Inhofe was one of a group of Republican senators that signed a May 2010 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arguing that any engagement with the Syrian regime constituted a “reward” for Assad’s government. But as Ben Birnbaum reported in the Washington Times today, Ihofe’s changed his tune:
“I really changed my mind on this,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“He has done some things that are just really impressive. He’s gone to places where the protesters are. He’s been roughed up a few times. I had the impression that he wouldn’t be quite strong enough, and I’ve been proven wrong.”
I would say now, because he has become such a symbol of American support for the Syrian people, that it would actually be a defeat for the cause of freedom in Syria – and almost a victory for Assad – if we don’t confirm Robert Ford.
With tons of even neoconservatives — usually reliably hawkish on the Middle East and against diplomacy in countries considered U.S. adversaries — now coming out in favor of confirming Ford and allowing him to stay in Damascus to continue his work, one wonders how long the final holdouts like Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and potentially others can cling to their obstructionist position on an up-or-down vote for the ambassador.