The White House’s point man for Syria, Robert Ford, has told friends he is likely to leave the State Department this year, our colleague Anne Gearan reports.

On paper, Ford is still the ambassador to Syria, but his job has been to lead the U.S. policy of supporting the Syrian opposition since the embassy in Damascus closed two years ago.

A career Foreign Service officer, fluent Arabic speaker and well-regarded diplomat, Ford was in line to become the next ambassador to Egypt. The nomination died before it was born, however, when officials of the military-backed interim government in Cairo nixed it, according to several people familiar with the decision.

Ford was an indirect casualty of the coup that deposed the Muslim Brotherhood-backed elected president, Mohamed Morsi, last summer. Though Ford is widely liked by many Egyptian officials, his vocal support for the Syrian opposition movement and close ties to Persian Gulf nations made him suspect to the Egyptian military, which has held de facto power since July, current and former U.S. officials said. Egypt’s opposition was first reported by Foreign Policy magazine.

Ordinarily, career officers named to major posts in friendly capitals have no trouble winning “agreement,” the diplomatic term for the acceptance of one country’s choice for ambassador. But the Egyptian military, which has long considered the Muslim Brotherhood a political enemy, feared that Ford was too close to Islamist political movements across the Middle East, U.S. and Arab officials said.

A career Foreign Service officer, fluent Arabic speaker and well-regarded diplomat, Robert Ford was in line to become the next ambassador to Egypt. (Stephanie Mcgehee/REUTERS)

Ford’s nomination had been planned for January, U.S. and other officials said. The officials all spoke on the condition of anonymity because neither Ford nor the White House has talked publicly about the doomed plan. Instead, the deputy chief of mission, Marc J. Sievers, was promoted to charge d’affaires on Jan. 21.

“Robert Ford has not been nominated for a new position. Beyond that, we don’t have any comment on personnel,” said Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokeswoman.

‘Unprofessional conduct’

A recently released Pentagon inspector general’s report found that the Defense Department’s chief historian, Erin Mahan, “on occasion engaged in unprofessional conduct in the office” by “discussing personal medical issues” and “speculating about an employee’s sexual orientation,” that she “directed two contract employees to plan, organize and execute” office social events, and that she had those employees babysit when she brought her son to work and “transport the child to and from daycare” — thus using her “public office for private gain.”

The report, dated Dec. 27, 2012, was released more than nine months after The Washington Post filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the document. (We’re told this is pretty much the interminable turnaround on public-records requests by the Defense Department IG’s office.) We apologize for their tardiness.

The IG also found that Mahan “improperly promised two subordinates” that each of them was in line to be the next deputy chief historian.

In the report, Mahan dismissed the IG’s conclusions as based on “office gossip and uncorroborated hearsay.” In response, the inspector general said “we based our conclusions on the preponderance of the evidence” and “we stand by our conclusions.”

A Pentagon spokesman said last month that officials had taken unspecified “administrative action” in response to the report.

Mahan is still on the job and, judging from an e-mail she sent us over the weekend, hardly backing down. “I stand by my responses to the inspector general,” Mahan wrote. “There is no credence to any of the allegations except my momentary and isolated lapse of judgment early in my tenure of accepting help on four occasions from two contractor” historians for her “then pre-school-age son.”

Mahan said she was, at the time, “relatively new” in the job and trying to “be the overly conscientious professional and meet parental obligations as a single parent.”

A statement to Putin

It surely didn’t go unnoticed in the Kremlin when President Obama smacked down Russian President Vladimir Putin last month by naming several openly gay athletes to the U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics, which start Friday in Sochi — including tennis great Billie Jean King, Olympic figure skating medalist Brian Boitano and women’s hockey medalist Caitlin Cahow.

Gay groups were outraged by a law, signed by Putin in July, that bans pro-gay “propaganda” that could be accessible by minors — a measure seen as banning almost any public discussion of gay rights. He also signed a law banning the adoption of Russian-born children by gay couples.

Now the Human Rights Campaign, the powerful lobby for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) folk, is calling on Obama to do more: The group sent a letter Tuesday asking him to name an openly gay ambassador to Moscow to replace Michael McFaul, who said Tuesday that he’s leaving his post after the Olympics.

That, “or, at the very least, an American who is publicly and notably supportive of equality — would send a vital message to the world that America’s belief in international human rights is as strong as ever,” the rights group’s president, Chad Griffin, wrote. “It would give LGBT Russians a hopeful diplomatic role model to look to in their own backyard.”

Obama, as Griffin noted, has appointed “more openly LGBT ambassadors” than any previous president.

The blog:
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.