Syria, US recall ambassadors
posted at 2:45 pm on October 24, 2011 by Ed Morrissey
In a sign that Barack Obama’s attempts to push Syrian thug Bashar Assad as a “reformer” have come to an end, the US has recalled Ambassador Robert Ford from Damascus. They cite security concerns as the reason for the abrupt retraction Ford:
Amid escalating protests in Syria after Muammar Qadfafi’s death, the United States pulled Ambassador Robert Ford out of Syria over the weekend due to concerns for his personal safety and accused the government of incitement against him, the State Department said Monday.
“Ambassador Robert Ford was brought back to Washington as a result of credible threats against his personal safety in Syria,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner said in a statement.
“At this point, we can’t say when he will return to Syria. It will depend on our assessment of Syrian regime-led incitement and the security situation on the ground. We hope that the Syrian regime will end its incitement campaign against Ambassador Ford,” Toner added.
The withdrawal of the American ambassador, which according to Reuters occurred over the weekend, comes during the seventh month of an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
The Guardian has more, including the claim that Obama doesn’t intend to break off diplomatic relations with the move:
Defying a travel ban on diplomats travelling outside Damascus, Ford made high-profile visits to locations at the centre of opposition to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and spoke to leaders of the protests.
His withdrawal adds to tensions between Damascus and Washington, which has called on on Assad to step down and to stop using violence against peaceful protesters.
Speculation has grown since the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi that Syria might be the next target for western intervention, though Obama administration officials have so far denied it.
The state department stressed that Ford’s return did not amount to a formal breakdown in relations and that Ford’s deputy, Haynes Mahoney, would remain in Damascus and carry out Ford’s duties.
Carl in Jerusalem notes that Obama may not want to break off diplomatic relations, but that Syria may well do so:
There’s now one less spy at the Syrian embassy in Washington. In response to the US announcement earlier on Monday that it has recalledAmbassador Robert Ford, Syria has announced that it has recalled its ambassador to the United States.
So far that news has not hit the wires, but it’s the type of reciprocal action that one usually sees in these situations. The Syrians had protested Ford’s actions to the US, but apparently have decided to make it clear that they will not answer for his safety. That’s a rather direct strategy to get Ford out of the way, and the Obama administration has done the right thing in bringing Ford back to the US.
The better question is why he was still there at all. The Saudis pulled their ambassador out of Damascus almost three months ago, after it became clear that Assad would prefer to massacre Syrians than to reform his regime. The US declined to act at that time, congratulating the Saudis for their action while still pretending that Assad was a reformer at heart. Instead, we seemed to make the argument that we were less concerned about ongoing human-rights violations than the Saudis while maintaining that Ford’s presence was necessary as a “witness” to the atrocities.
We bombed Moammar Qaddafi out of Tripoli for launching his military against unarmed civilians, even though Qaddafi at that time didn’t present a direct threat to the US. Meanwhile, we’ve used only diplomatic niceties against Assad, one of Iran’s key allies in the region and a backer of both Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Pulling diplomats out of Damascus would be a start to a tougher approach to an acute threat to the US and its allies, but only if the Obama administration intends on actually getting tougher at all.
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