The White House has announced the appointment of a new ambassador to Syria -- a controversial move by U.S. President Barack Obama, who used his Constitutional muscle on Wednesday to name the envoy while the Senate was not in session.
The previous ambassador to Syria was withdrawn by former President George W. Bush in 2005 in response to the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as well as its support for Saddah Hussein-sympathizers and terrorism in general. There were strong indications at the time that Syria was behind Hariri's murder, although Damascus denied involvement in the truck bombing.
The Obama administration has contended since taking office that re-establishing diplomatic relations would be the best way to convince Syria – listed by the State Department as a “state sponsor of terrorism” – to change its policies towards Israel and the rest of the Middle East.
Robert Ford, a career diplomat who has been waiting in the wings since his confirmation hearings were completed in February, was appointed to become the new envoy. Ford, who has previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Algeria, was not confirmed by the Senate, which has refused to consider sending an ambassador to Syria.
“Making undeserved concessions to Syria tells the regime in Damascus that it can continue to pursue its dangerous agenda and not face any consequences from the U.S.,” explained the incoming chairperson of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She told reporters in a prepared statement, “That is the wrong message to be sending to a regime which continues to harm and threaten U.S. interests and those of such critical allies as Israel.”
Obama used a Constitutional power that enables him to make recess appointments in order to work around the impasse. Under the loophole, the president can fill a post when the Senate is not in session, and the appointment is valid until the end of the next session of Congress. Presidents often use the power to make appointments when Senate confirmation is blocked.
Other appointments that were filled Wednesday by Obama during the Senate recess included envoy posts to Azerbaijan and NATO allies Turkey and the Czech Republic.