Ambassador Ford’s Departure a Defeat for al-Assad

With the departure of the US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, from Damascus and the summoning home of Syrian ambassador Emad Moustafa, President Obama’s original Syria policy has now crashed and burned.

There is no immediate danger of Obama going in the direction recommended by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), of military action against Syria. But the likelihood of Ford actually returning to his post any time soon, despite State Department assurances, is low. He has repeatedly been the object of ire among regime loyalists in Syria, and his abrupt return to Washington appears to be related to some sort of planned attack on him. Ford has vocally supported the right of Syrians to peaceable assembly and protest (he should have a word with the US police forces who have arrested or harassed so many of the “Occupy” protesters). Despite his being a thorn in the side of the Baathist regime, President Bashar al-Assad is making a huge error in allowing the situation to deteriorate so badly that Ford has had to leave.

Barack Obama came to office in 2009 determined to talk to all parties in the Middle East, including Iran and Syria. This policy of ‘jaw-jaw’ rather than ‘war-war’ (in Churchill’s phrase) contrasted with George W. Bush’s ‘cooties’ theory of diplomacy, wherein he never acknowledged that Syria and Iran existed except to condemn them, and declined to allow any US official to get near enough to them to actually speak to them. While the Baath in Syria and the Islamic Republic have adopted policies deserving of condemnation, it is not useful for a great power only to scold from a distance, in the absence of other forms of engagement.

Thus, Obama addressed the Iranians on the Persian New Year (typically March 21), and had a US representative meet along with other UN Security Council members and Germany with a representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to negotiate the impasse over Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. (Iran says it is a civilian program to produce fuel for reactors).

With regard to Syria, Obama restored diplomatic relations and sent an ambassador to Damascus. Syria had had an envoy to the US all along, Emad Moustafa, but no one in the capital seemed to talk to him and he was billed the loneliest man in Washington.

But Obama’s determination to talk with his enemies abroad met the same fate as his attempt to reach compromises with the Republican Party domestically. Iran weirdly made a deal on sending low-enriched uranium out of the country to be turned into fuel for a medical reactor, then abruptly reneged on it.

Relations between the US and Syria foundered on the Arab Spring and the widespread demonstrations in Syria’s provincial cities, which have been met with brute force that has left an estimated 3,000 demonstrators dead and many more wounded or imprisoned.

Reuters has video on Ford’s departure:

On Friday, some 25 protesters were killed by the Syrian army.

Obama has been left with a policy toward Syria of financial sanctions and a diplomatic freeze, despite his best efforts to craft a better approach.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should realize that keeping Ford in Damascus and safe is his best option for keeping a line open to Obama. By allowing or perhaps fostering threats to the US ambassador, he has cut himself off from any dialogue with Washington. It is Sen. McCain’s warmongering that has filled that vacuum.

McCain is wrong that Western military intervention is plausible in Syria. There has been no Arab League resolution calling for it, and no UN Security Council resolution (action is being blocked by Russia and China). Most Syrian protesters themselves have opposed foreign intervention. There is no framework of international legality or legitimacy that would permit an outside intervention. Additionally, Syria’s geography is diverse and often rugged, and no attempt at intervention would be simple, tactically or logistically.

Given the danger that sinister accusations will come to substitute themselves for reality in Washington with regard to Syria, Damascus would be better off finding a way to get Ford back into the country. To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war.

Posted in Syria | 19 Responses | Print |

19 Responses

  1. John McCain should be labled as a threat to our national security. As long as McCain is alive and has any influence,our soldiers have job security…as long as they can stay alive.

    Certainly a US soldier’s life expectancy would be greatly reduced with blodthirsty old farts like Joe Lieberman/Lindsey Graham/John McCain calling the shots in the middle east.

  2. Juan, you seem to have forgotten that Just before Obama sent his absurdly hypocritical New Year message to the people of Iran, in which he once again insisted stubbornly that the rapidly declining Green movement were actually the majority of the country, he had extended the sanctions on Iran and the Iranian Supreme Leader pointed this out in his Nowruz speech to the Iranian nation.Also, the meeting between Obama’s representative and the Supreme Leader’s sounds very strange to me as the Supreme leader would never agree with such a thing as long as US does not discard its hypocritical and hostile policies towards Iran. I think you can get the most realistic and sensible analysis and news about Iran from I am sure you know of the Leveretts.

      • Yeah, right! Whoever tells you anything against what you expect to hear about Iran is a mouthpiece! Thumbs up for Faux News, the only valid, reliable, unbiased news network on earth!

    • The Leveretts will go to any lengths not to mention human rights issues, and frequently relay government propaganda. If not mouthpieces, they’re the most prominent apologists. They are about as credible as Press TV as analysts.

      Whoever tells you what you don’t expect to hear isn’t always “telling it straight,” “above the fray and objective” or other such clichés. Sometimes they are really just a shill.

      • Joe, First of all, I did not denounce popular protests, I just said they are not the majority and they are almost dead now in Iran. Second of all, it is your support for Obama that is more reminiscent of Fox news ethos, not my criticism of his hypocrisy.

  3. The US recalled its ambassador to Libya under similar circumstances in December 2010…

  4. “Additionally, Syria’s geography is diverse and often rugged, and no attempt at intervention would be simple, tactically or logistically.”

    On the other-hand Syria is quite closer to Cyprus which means raf bases would be a lot closer.

    • …Syria is way more densely populated (20 Mio people compared to 6) by a way more diverse and educated population and the days of Lawrence of Arabia are over there. This is turning into a civil war certainly not between equals, but any foreign military intervention would be the bull in the china shop. Imagine European countries sending troops to “make peace” in a American or Turkish civil war. Sounds arrogant, ignorant? So would this be.

      Al-Assad is a terrible idiot to send Ford away. I´m diappointed how much of a puppet in the hands of the Baath party he is…. everyone knew all along that that was how he came to rule the country in the first place, that wasn´t his fault as heir apparent in a police state – but there are limits in how far one has to bend even in that position.

  5. But Juan, while it may have been packaged as “jaw-jaw,” the intent remained regime change.

    And let’s be serious about the nuclear fuel exchange, shall we? How could you possibly defend Obama’s rejection of the 2010 Tehran Declaration?

  6. As I read Juan’s comments I internally again feel quite sad, that our government is willing to wreak such havoc on the world. It should be obvious to any person with intelligence, that people only act when they have an inward orientation to act. Which means the only realistic way for our country to influence world events in a beneficial manner, is to behave toward other counties by OUR ACTIONS in a manner that reflects the principle of freedom and each person optimizing his potential.

    We should clearly refuse to collaborate with governments that are oppressive, regardless of how much stuff they have that we want (like Saudi Arabia and oil).

    We should eliminate the CIA doing anything in another country; you don’t have to do damage to others to collect sufficient intelligence to protect yourselves.

    We should eliminate every military base in every country outside the US. Such installations belie our so-called attraction to freedom, and actively encourage a warlike attitude throughout the world.

    And we should stop funding militaries that act in an oppressive manner: Egypt, Israel, Bahrain, etc., etc., etc..

    • “We should clearly refuse to collaborate with governments that are oppressive”

      I hear this complaint a lot and i wonder if those putting it forward have really thought it through, by not collaborating with government one would effectively be putting these countries under a form of sanctions and as we know from iraq, iran and cuba sanctions haven’t been very successful in removing regimes but have been highly successful in harming its citizens.

      Also wouldnt such a move require ceasing relations with major countries such as china? Such a move hardly seems feasible.

  7. [Obama’s determination to talk with his enemies abroad met the same fate as his attempt to reach compromises with the Republican Party domestically. ]

    So, Obama was forced into complete submission by GOP/Israel. What they want for the Middle East is well known.

  8. Professor Cole:

    Interested to get your ‘take’ on Nir Rosen’s work @ Al Jazeera, emphasizing the ethnic divide in the Syrian Civil War. He hasn’t discussed Assad’s strong Sunni support in Damascus. I write ‘civil war’ because this seems like a war along religious and/or regional conflict, with ideology and governance issues secondary.

    link to

  9. I found the McCain statement endorsing U.S. military intervention as bordering on shocking. I hope and expect there will be cooler heads prevailing in the Congress.

    The recent demise of the former Libyan dictator may have made Assad think about reconciliation and democratic reforms as a goal preferable to the violence against its own citizenry that has failed thus far in Egypt and Libya.

  10. “Iran weirdly made a deal on sending low-enriched uranium out of the country to be turned into fuel for a medical reactor, then abruptly reneged on it.”

    That is completely incorrect in every particular.

    Iran never accepted the phoney deal the US offered in fall of 2009 because it was concerned the LEU sent out would not be returned when and if the TRR fuel would never be delivered. It did, however, offer suggestions that would make the deal more palatable in Iran, specifically to have the fuel in escrow in Turkey under IAEA supervision until the TRR fuel was delivered. This was rejected by the US and its negotiating partners.

    Subsequently in 2010 Turkey and Brazil attempted to reach a deal consistent with Obama’s specific conditions outlined in letters to those countries heads of state shortly before their negotiations were to begin. When the deal was reached, to the surprise of the White House which had claimed it was very unlikely to be accepted by Iran, Obama immediately rejected the deal as insufficient, thereby proving that the entire offer was phoney all along.

    If nothing else proves that Obama is first and foremost a liar, the events surrounding the Tehran Declaration prove it beyond all doubt.

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