Last year, Senate Republicans refused to confirm Robert Ford as U.S. ambassador to Syria, claiming — in an purely ideological sense presumably — that sending a high-level American envoy to Damascus would “reward” the Assad regime for bad behavior. President Obama recess appointed Ford anyway, and his bold visit to Hama last July amid the Arab Spring inspired anti-regime demonstrations symbolized the importance of his presence there (see amateur video of Ford attending the wake of a Syrian activist killed by Syrian forces).
Yet conservatives still wanted Ford out of Damascus. Many argued that the White House should withdraw the American envoy in response to Bashar al Assad’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy activists there. However, the Obama administration, and even Ford himself, continued to make their case. “We owe it to them to remain supportive,” Ford said of the Syrians in his confirmation hearing last month. “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 told the Daily Caller this week.
However, some, like Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who opposed Ford’s confirmation last year, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who called on Obama to recall Ford just last April, now see the wisdom in keeping him there. Now, the neocons are coming around too. Yesterday, Robert Kagan of the Foreign Policy Initiative — a group that as recently as July was still calling on Ford to be recalled — said “the Senate should confirm him as soon as possible.” And today in the Los Angeles Times, fellow right-wing hawk Max Boot followed suit:
Our embattled man in Damascus, Ambassador Robert Ford, is threatened not only by the Syrian regime but by Republican senators who are dragging their feet on confirming his appointment. Their opposition, which is founded on the premise that we should not dignify Bashar Assad’s regime with an ambassador, is understandable but misguided. Ford has been a profile in courage in opposing Assad. [...]
It is possible that Ford may be expelled by the Syrian government in any case, but as long as he can stay in Damascus, he will support the demands of the protesters. The Senate should give him the opportunity to continue his valuable work.
It’s still unclear what Republicans in the Senate will do. Ford will be forced to come home if he is not confirmed by the end of the year. An aide to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) — who placed the hold on Ford’s nomination last year — signaled recently that he would do it again when his confirmation comes to a vote. Another Senate GOP aide told Foreign Policy, “You could potentially anticipate a number of senators putting holds on Ford.” But now that progressives and conservatives are speaking out with one voice calling for the Senate to keep Ford in Damascus, will Senate Republicans relent and make the right choice?