The administration keeps insisting that the decision to return an ambassador to Damascus and to keep him there during Bashar al-Assad’s reign of terror was not a mistake. He’s the eyes and ears for the administration, we were told. He’s a conduit to Syrian opposition. Really?
The Associated Press reported:
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday’s trip to the abandoned town of Jisr al-Shughour allowed Ambassador Robert Ford to “see for himself the results of the Syrian government’s brutality.”
Yet it was unclear how Ford would have gathered such evidence on the government-sponsored tour.
Nuland said journalists and foreign diplomats saw an “empty town with significant damage.” But she said no residents were around to offer an opposing view from the one presented by Syrian government officials.
Nuland insisted it was a “valuable” trip. It was sponsored by Syria‘s foreign ministry and military.
As the AP indelicately put it, “The Obama administration is struggling to explain why its ambassador to Syria participated in a sanitized trip.” Moreover, it sheds doubt on the claim that Ford has freedom of movement and is free to interact with Syrian opposition.
Even worse is what Ford is saying to the Arabic press. Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies e-mails me to point out Ford’s recent statements to Alarabiya.netthat “the U.S. ‘supports a dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition inside [Syria], with the goal of formulating a political framework that would pave the way to ending the crisis in the country.’ This is a remarkable statement.” Indeed, it is, since the State Department has made clear that dialogue with the Assad regime is impossible given the ongoing brutality of the regime. As Badran points out, “The opposition has already declared that it refuses to dialogue with the murderous Assad, especially as he continues the repression and continues to label them as criminals and terrorists.” Badran adds that the opposition forces “also recognize that it is not only their right to protest, but that if they stop and enter into dialogue, they will forfeit their leverage against Assad.” In essence then, “if Ford is indeed advocating this dialogue policy (as his statement to Alarabiya suggests), then he is effectively undercutting the opposition’s position,” says Badran.
That would be bad enough. However, Badran relates something even more troubling:
In that same alarabiya report, Ford is said to have told alarabiya that the US military attache who had visited a Syrian military detachment in Jisr al-Shughour, where the regime is claiming its officers were ambushed by militants, had told him . . . that it was clear that “the attack was well planned judging from the professionalism of the execution, and that those who perpetrated the attack on the detachment have good experience in security tactics.
Good grief. Needless to say, no other ambassador is fawning over the “professionalism” of Assad’s henchmen.
Perhaps it is time for some serious oversight. In short, what does Ford do every day and whose side is he helping? What is he telling the Arab press? It’s time to come clean about what he is up to and whether at this point he’s making life more comfortable for the butcher of Damascus.