A couple of days ago, I was less than impressed with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton making the case that Syria’s Bashar Assad had “lost legitimacy” when he had none in the first place. I also argued that the very least the Obama Administration (who were foolish to send a representative to Damascus at all) could do was withdraw our Ambassador, Robert Ford.
However, John Tabin argues that it might now be more beneficial to keep Ford in Syria now that he has raised the ire of Assad loyalists by virtue of his visit to Hama. There have been instances when American diplomats have acted on behalf of the citizens rather than the government of the country to which they were posted. James McGee, who was our Ambassador to Zimbabwe during the latter part of the Bush Administration, performed this role admirably especially during the violence which ensued after the triumph of Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC in the first round of the 2008 Zimbabwean elections. Indeed, Robert Mugabe threatened to expel McGee and was also subject to threats of violence. McGee’s time in Zimbabwe is documented in Peter Godwin’s book The Fear. However, President Obama replaced McGee in the summer of 2009. Although to be fair, McGee’s successor Charles Ray hasn’t hesitated to make his voice heard.
Tabin does make a point of stating, “Just to be clear, Ford’s presence in Syria can be of net value if, and only if, the administration has truly made a clean break from its engagement fantasies.” Yet this raises two questions. First, is Robert Ford prepared to become the James McGee of Syria? Second, would the Obama Administration let him? Unless the answer is yes to both questions, there is little point in the Obama Administration keeping Ford in Syria.