This week, United States Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford participated in a tour sponsored by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government in the Northwest province of Idlib. The propaganda tour was organized to show the devastation caused by what government officials described as "foreign outlaws" and "radical Islamists." The excursion included Syrian officials who explained to Ford that Islamic extremists were responsible for the more than 1,500 deaths that have occurred since anti-government protests began on March 15. Government officials also told Ford that there have been no peaceful freedom marches, as has been reported by the international media, only foreign radicals looking to destabilize Syria. Ambassador Ford dutifully attended the government's tour but has since failed to respond or react.
Ford's silence dramatically contrasts with his tough talk during his confirmation hearing in March 2010 when he told Senators, "Unfiltered straight talk with the Syrian government will be my mission priority." We can only hope Ford's public silence means he has been giving it to Assad privately. But unfortunately there are press reports indicating that Ford hasn't been able to schedule a private meeting with any senior government officials. So the U.S. Ambassador to Syria just sits and waits.
Ford's stiff upper lip seems exactly what President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton want. While they cling to the idea that Assad may still yet be a reformer, the Obama team misses the opportunity to topple the Syrian dictator and blunt Iran's influence in the region. A review of Ford's Embassy website shows a similar silence from Ford on the Syrian crackdown of the last three months. With foreign journalists not allowed inside Syria, you might think the U.S. Embassy staff would be working overtime to tell the world and specifically the U.S. taxpayer just what is happening inside Assad's world. Shouldn't Ford be calling attention to and showing the violence coming from Assad's government? How about demanding that the IAEA come in to inspect the Israeli-bombed suspected nuclear site Al Kibar? Now seems like a good time to take advantage of a distracted dictator. But our U.S. Embassy's website is embarrassingly outdated and irrelevant.
On the home page there is a link to the text of Obama's speech Wednesday on Afghanistan, a June 17th news summary from Washington's Information Bureau quoting an unidentified official on Syria and an op/ed from Secretary Clinton dated June 17. A closer look and you can find links to statements dated June 8th, June 4th and May 31 on HIV/AIDS and the internet. There are also stories on Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and former astronaut Marsha Ivins. But there is nothing from Ford on his reaction to the Syrian propaganda tour or the violent government crackdowns.
It's time to end this charade and show Assad what the American government thinks of his phony excuses of "64,000 outlaws" and a "revolution by the Muslim Brotherhood who are agents of America and the West." Surely Ford must know Assad is not telling the truth and that Americans are not responsible for Assad's troubles. With 10,500 Syrians having fled into Turkey, Assad's problem has become an issue of international peace and security. If U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, can't show regional instability and thus an urgency for UN action, then it's time the U.S. act in other ways. With more promises of reforms, new committees and conspiracy charges from Assad's Damascus University speech on Monday, the time to do more is now. Opposition forces need to know that the U.S. stands with them. It's also a chance to show the Iranian people what is possible. Ford and Clinton look foolish doing nothing. While some may say that the U.S. has little it can do outside of military action, Obama can still squeeze the Assad regime and isolate it further with these actions:
- Order Ford home immediately, and shut down the Embassy.
- Publicly call upon Assad to resign and ask other countries to do the same.
- Call upon the Europeans and others to pull their Ambassadors from Damascus too.
- Restrict the movement of the Syrian Ambassador to Washington and the Syrian Ambassador to the UN to a small radius around their offices.
- Ask European capitals to restrict the movement of Syrian Ambassadors in their countries too.
- Force the UN resolution on Syria to a vote and dare the Russians to veto it.
- Move USAid employees into southern Turkey to care for the Syrian refugees arriving daily.
- Schedule an Al Jazeera TV interview with President Obama to explain our actions and why Assad must go.
- Demand the IAEA inspect Al Kibar and offer an immediate UN resolution authorizing it.
One sure way to ruin American credibility in the Arab world is to sit silently in Damascus and look like you're part of the Assad show.