Last year, President Obama used his recess appointment power to install Robert Ford as the U.S. ambassador to Syria after Republicans blocked Ford’s confirmation because they thought that by sending an envoy to Damascus, the president was rewarding Syrian support for terrorism.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) also opposed sending Ford to Syria. “I felt that dispatching an ambassador to Damascus would be a mistake given [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad’s failure to alter any of his outrageous policies,” Lieberman writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today. But now, Lieberman has changed his mind and is calling on the Senate to finally confirm Ford. He explains why:
Rather than being an envoy to Assad, Mr. Ford is now first and foremost our ambassador to the Syrian people and a bridge to the democratic transition they demand. This is a role for which Mr. Ford — an innovative and tough diplomat with extensive experience in the Middle East — is uniquely well-suited.
The ambassador’s important and powerful visit last month to the city of Hama — where peaceful protesters had seized control, but where Syrian forces now are engaged in a gruesome campaign of violence — was an example of the kind of forward-leaning, gutsy diplomacy that our Syria policy now needs. It was also a powerful reminder that, while we cannot dictate the outcome of the struggle in Syria, U.S. leadership is pivotal — and Amb. Ford provided it.
Indeed, Ford told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that he needs to be in Syria for exactly the reason that Lieberman laid out. “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, adding, “I think we owe it to them to remain supportive and it try to build that support wisely.” U.S. officials said Ford’s contacts there are “the most important sources of information in assessing the Syrian scene.”
Ford has drawn wide praise from analysts here in the U.S., and even from the Syrian pro-democracy activists themselves, for his dramatic visit to Hama last month. And like Lieberman, it has caused some to rethink their view that the United States should not have an ambassador in Syria. Yet the neocons remain unconvinced. Last month, the Foreign Policy Initiative called on Obama to recall Ford from Damascus.