In reversal, conservative group urges Senate to confirm U.S. envoy to Syria

Laura Rozen
The Envoy

Robert Ford, the U.S. envoy to Syria, has become an important source of moral support for pro-democracy protesters confronting a brutal regime crackdown that has killed over 2,500 people.

And now some American foreign-policy outfits are starting to acknowledge Ford's critical role. The Foreign Policy Initiative, a small advocacy group co-founded by the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol to promote a strong U.S. military and neoconservative U.S. foreign policy, reversed its earlier position on Ford's presence in the country. The group had previously pressed Washington policymakers to withdraw Ford from Damascus as a gesture of protest against Bashar al-Assad's crackdown -- but now it's calling on the U.S. Senate to confirm Ford as the U.S. ambassador to Syria.

"Ford has been doing a terrific job, and at some personal risk, of making clear to the people of Syria that the US stands with them and against Assad," Robert Kagan, co-founder of FPI and a senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, told The Envoy by email Thursday. "I understand why some believed we should withdraw our ambassador, but circumstances have changed.  It's very important that Ford be kept in Damascus, and the Senate should confirm him as soon as possible."

Ford "has repeatedly put himself in harm's way by visiting protests and funerals of murdered protesters, and vociferously condemning the Assad regime," FPI said in a statement Thursday.

Human rights groups have also praised Ford's critical role and urged his confirmation.

"Syria is a country where U.S. policy leverage is limited," Human Rights First's Quinn O'Keefe said in a press statement Thursday. "For that reason alone, Ambassador Ford's performance has been valuable. His leadership and strong demonstration of solidarity with the protestors and local human rights movement in Syria is how U.S. Ambassadors everywhere should stand for human rights, democracy, and freedom."

Ford--an Arabic-speaking career diplomat who previously served as deputy U.S. ambassador in Iraq and in Algeria, is among a group of U.S. ambassadors whom President Obama "recess-appointed" last December since the Senate had delayed voting on their appointments for  several months. Other recess-appointed ambassadors include the U.S. envoys to Turkey (Francis Ricciardone Jr.), Azerbaijan (Matthew Bryza) and the Czech Republic (Norm Eisen).

The Senate foreign relations panel voted last week to forward Ford's nomination to the full Senate to consider--along with the nominations of the envoys to Turkey, Prague and Armenia.

A vote on Ford's nomination could come as soon as this week.