Foreign Policy Blogs

New Ford for 2011

Well just when you thought US-Syria relations where stuck in a rut we get a major curveball from Pres. Obama.

Robert Ford has been pushed through as US ambassador to Syria as part of a series of recess appointments by President Obama. While the manner of his appointment will limit the term of his ambassadorship, it still marks a potential sea change in US-Syria relations. This blog has chronicled the importance of having a full time ambassador before and, hopefully, some real gains can be made now that there is an open forum for dialogue between the two countries.

(Try reading other stories on the appointment here, and here. And kudos to the Washington Post for confusing the new US ambassador to Syria with the newly appointed deputy Attorney General in the headline. Thats damned fine reporting.)

Critics of the move will view Ford’s appointment as a reward for Syria, something they would say the Assad regime doesn’t deserve. Hezbollah, Scuds, and the STL will be at the center of their refrain. While this viewpoint is correct in its suggestion that Syria is not perfect, I cannot agree with any argument that suggests withholding an ambassador is a good thing.

How do Obama’s critics expect to influence Syria’s behavior without an Ambassador? How, exactly, will the US prevent Syrian support of Hezbollah, pry Damascus from the influence of Tehran, and have any impact on the Syrian position vis-a-vis the peace process? Even the most anti-Assad observer has to admit that the US has failed to influence Syria via its previous policies of, either, complete isolation (Bush Era) or quasi-engagement (Obama). Attempts to justify either policy are cynical and need not be taken seriously. The US-Syria relationship was going nowhere during the Bush presidency, and had become almost completely stuck under Obama. This appointment, a bold decision and a credit to Pres. Obama, will hopefully provide a needed jolt to a handful of issues on the agenda which awaits Ambassador Ford.

In the next few days I will do my best to follow up on this story and provide some outline of the challenges and choices which Ambassador Ford faces.

In the meantime, a night of festive merriment awaits me in Qatana. Rumors of lasers abound.

Thanks to everyone who has read, commented, or otherwise contributed to the FPA Syria blog. I have thoroughly enjoyed the blogging experience, in no small part because of you. May 2011 find us all happier, healthier, and wealthier than we were in 2010! Be safe and enjoy everyone!



Walter Raubeson

Walter spent the last two years living and working in Damascus, reporting on the Syrian social, political, and cultural scene. Recently returned to the US, Walter continues to monitor Middle Eastern events with verve, and also gusto.

Having graduated from New York University's Masters Program in Political Science- International Relations-in September 2008, Walter's MA thesis analyzed the Lebanese political system; focusing on the impact of foreign intervention within Lebanon, particularly the roles of Iran, Israel, Syria, and the US.