U.S. President Barack Obama has rebuffed increasing demands to recall American Ambassador Robert Ford from Damascus and instead still wants to “engage” Assad, a policy France has implied is a fantasy.
Republican Senator John McCain, former U.S. spokesman at the United Nations Richard Grenell, and a senior Congresswoman have called on President Obama to recall Ford.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican head of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, charged that Syrian President Bashar Assad is using him “for propaganda purposes.” Ford recently joined a government tour of northern Syria.
However, the U.S. State Department has kept up a continuous line of insisting that the United States is better off trying to influence Assad by keeping an ambassador in the country. The Obama administration has reversed the Bush administration’s recalling the ambassador several years ago from Syria, officially described as a country that support terror.
"Our review remains that Ambassador Ford is doing useful work in Damascus and in Syria, he continues to meet with a broad cross-section of Syrian opposition," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters at a daily briefing. “We did think that his trip up north, even though it was organized by the Syrian government, allowed him to convey our messages.”
She claimed that one success of keeping Ford in Damascus was this week’s meeting of nearly 200 Syrian protest leaders in Damascus, without government intervention or arrests.
Grenell, writing in the Huffington Post, described the tour of northern Syria a trick by the Assad regime “to show the devastation caused by what government officials described as ‘foreign outlaws’ and ‘radical Islamists.'"
He declared that Ford “has since failed to respond or react” to the allegations on the tour and added, “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.’
Grenell said that President Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “cling to the idea that Assad may still yet be a reformer [while] the Obama team misses the opportunity to topple the Syrian dictator and blunt Iran's influence in the region….
“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?”
After Assad’s televised speech last week in which he continued to call protesters ‘armed gangs” and said Syrians are behind him, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that the Syrian president "has reached the point of no return" and that "there is no reason to take him seriously today.”
The Obama administration’s insistence to try to “engage” Assad is a measure of its “fantasy, Tony Badran, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in Now Lebanon.
The White House has urged Assad to “end the use of violence now and promptly enact meaningful reforms that respect the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people, but Badran said, “The Obama administration’s dogged pursuit of ‘behavior change’ on the part of Assad is not merely restricted to rhetoric.