HUFFINGTON POST
09/08/2011 06:16 pm ET Updated Nov 08, 2011

U.S. Ambassador To Syria Robert Ford Takes On His Critics Via Facebook

For the second time in three days, America's most free-range diplomat has taken to the Internet to deliver a direct message to the people of the country where he is serving.

U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, who has made a name for himself in recent weeks for his risky visits to remote cities where a popular anti-government uprising has grown violent and deadly, posted a message on Facebook late Thursday in response to critical comments from a message he posted earlier in the week.

"While reviewing recent posts I found several thoughtful comments by persons who are strongly critical of American policy," Ford's note began. "I respect that they asked hard questions, and they deserve answers. "

Ford then proceeded to address several of the complaints his earlier posts had drawn, including warnings that American efforts to unseat president Bashar al-Assad could endanger Christian minorities in the country, and concerns about whether America might deploy airstrikes:

Mujtaba Xr warns me that I will face being killed if I continue my criticism of the repression in Syria. I take his post to be a perfectly good example of the kind of intolerance that has provoked such discontent in Syria. Remember that I am one of the few international observers here on the ground; if only the Syrian government would allow international media to move around the country freely like we did in Iraq!

It was a rare and dramatic departure from the normally lofty speech of diplomats and ambassadors, and it wasn't the first time Ford has done so.

In his earlier message posted on Facebook on Tuesday, Ford offered a public acknowledgement -- often demanded by defenders and supporters of the regime of Bashar al-Assad -- that some of those killed in recent months were in fact state security forces.

"Some Syrian security service members have been killed," Ford wrote. "Some want the United States to acknowledge it; well, I’m the American ambassador, and I just did."

But, he went on:

No one in the international community accepts the justification from the Syrian government that those security service members’ deaths justify the daily killings, beatings, extrajudicial detentions, torture and harassment of unarmed civilian protesters. ...

Given the extent of the government’s brutality, neither the Syrian protest movement nor the international community will believe that this Syrian leadership desires or is capable of the deep, genuine and credible reforms that the Syrian people demand.

In a job where most overt actions -- from speeches to public appearances -- tend to be choreographed with Washington, Ford has distinguished himself for his willingness to take personal risks as well as to deliver candid messages directly to the public.

State Department colleagues and observers have described Ford as having a single-minded perspective of the job, and an atypical amount of freedom to exercise it.

"I think there has been a strategic decision that Ambassador Ford can be as active as he thinks he can be, consistent with security," former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told HuffPost. "To an extent the State Department has decided to turn him loose and let him engage in Syria in whatever way he feels is appropriate. They're placing a lot of trust and confidence in him and his judgment."

Syrian officials have not taken Ford's public diplomacy lightly, particularly his regular flouting of new regulations that prohibit him from leaving the Damascus area without prior approval.

But according to the State Department, Ford has continued to meet with Syrian officials, even as he openly condemns the regime, with the most recent interactions coming Wednesday morning.

"It's one of the reasons why it's so important that he's still there," Crowley said. "He's able to engage -- increasingly he's not able to engage the government, but he's able to carry out a conversation with the people of Syria, both those who welcome U.S. support and action, and those who criticize it."