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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

U.S. Ambassador to Syria: Should He Stay or Should He Go?

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain all recalled their ambassadors from Syria Monday, a rebuke of Bashar al-Assad's escalating war against his own people. The State Department, however, insisted that U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford will stay in Damascus, despite the new level of brutality the Assad regime has sunk to.

Ford, State Department spox Mark Toner said, "is playing an important role on the ground, bearing witness to what’s going on in Syria."

Ford, himself, made the same pitch at his Senate confirmation hearing  last week ($), though only one senator - Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey, the chair of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East - stayed to hear it. The career foreign service officer, who was sent to Damascus in January, emphasized his outreach to the Syrian opposition.

"It's really important now to give Syrians an ear and to amplify their voices especially when the international media is barred from Syria," Ford said.

Ford was roundly applauded in DC when he visited the city of Hama after the government's last sustained assault against dissidents there. But that hasn't changed the minds of a crowd of GOP lawmakers who are convinced that the presence of a top diplomat in the country conveys a certain level of status and tacit approval to the government in power. They blocked Ford's appointment last time around, and they are likely to do so again when his recess appointment expires. The latest round of envoy withdrawals is only likely to strengthen their hand.

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