Former US ambassador to Syria: I couldn’t defend US policy any longer

posted at 3:21 pm on June 3, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

US Ambassador Robert Ford resigned from his State Department post a month ago, after a long and difficult time as the envoy to Syria. Ford showed great personal courage in his service while Bashar al-Assad instigated attacks on Western embassies and eventually provoked a massive civil war which has turned into a regional threat, thanks to the collapse of his power in large regions of Syria. The collapse of American policy in Syria over the past year was presumed to have prompted Ford’s departure, which he confirms with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview today.

This is interesting for more than just the rebuke to the aimless foreign policy of the Obama administration, though:

 “I was no longer in a position where I felt I could defend the American policy,” he said. “We have been unable to address either the root causes of the conflict in terms of the fighting on the ground and the balance on the ground, and we have a growing extremism threat.” …

“There really is nothing we can point to that’s been very successful in our policy except the removal of about ninety-three percent of some of Assad’s chemical materials. But now he’s using chlorine gas against his opponents.”

At the beginning of Syria’s conflict, the U.S. State Department – including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – pushed hard for America to provide robust support for the moderate opposition; that recommendation was not borne out.

This seems to hint at a disconnect on Syria between the Hillary Clinton State Department and the John Kerry State Department, which has focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict much more than the Syrian civil war. There probably isn’t much of a disconnect, though, even if there is a difference in focus. Obama blew whatever political capital he had for an intervention in Syria by drawing and then erasing his “red line,” and ended up surrendering control of the situation to Vladimir Putin.

The idea of intervention keeps coming up, but Ford was right to get out when he did. The recent Obama pivot on foreign policy was supposed to set the stage for a more activist policy, but Obama so thoroughly booted it that he ended up arguing against an intervention — and inadvertently validated the Iraq War.

This part of Ford’s remarks (not included in the video clip) contains its own possibly unintended but devastating criticism of the Obama/Hillary foreign policy in Libya. Ford’s talking about Syria and Assad, but it’s not exactly rocket science to apply this to the US-led effort to topple Moammar Qaddafi:

Assad “physically does not control two-thirds of Syria,” Ford said. “And we warned even as long as two years ago that terrorist groups would go into that vacuum, as we had seen in places like Afghanistan and Somalia and Yemen and Mali.”

“This is not rocket science. In a place where there is no government control, terrorist groups can infiltrate in and set up places where they can operate freely.”

“And we warned this would happen in Syria, and it has.”

Two years ago, by the way, was before the Benghazi attack, and Mali specifically resulted from creating the failed state in Libya. Ford’s criticism goes directly to the heart of the Obama/Hillary foreign policy decision to decapitate the Qaddafi regime without controlling the situation on the ground. It will be interesting to see how many others connect the dots on this argument, even if Ford may not have intended to do so himself.


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More likely he didn’t want to end up like another U.S. Ambassador whose name rhymes with “STEVENS”.

Bishop on June 3, 2014 at 3:22 PM

But now he’s using chlorine gas against his opponents.”

Isn’t his opponents has some Al-Qaeda element. I’m no Assad fan but do you want Al-Qaeda to win?

Oil Can on June 3, 2014 at 3:32 PM

The list of foreign policy failures is quite remarkable when you list them all. Not just little clunkers either,…great whoppin’ big missteps that hurt us badly and will take decades if ever, to repair.

butch on June 3, 2014 at 3:32 PM

More likely he didn’t want to end up like another U.S. Ambassador whose name rhymes with “STEVENS”.

Bishop on June 3, 2014 at 3:22 PM

Bishoped me to it.

Rix on June 3, 2014 at 3:33 PM

Two years ago, by the way, was before the Benghazi attack, and Mali specifically resulted from creating the failed state in Libya. Ford’s criticism goes directly to the heart of the Obama/Hillary foreign policy decision to decapitate the Qaddafi regime without controlling the situation on the ground. It will be interesting to see how many others connect the dots on this argument, even if Ford may not have intended to do so himself

…Zero!

KOOLAID2 on June 3, 2014 at 3:36 PM

So he can’t support a policy of pretending that the opposition is “moderate” and of drawing a “red line”, then bailing out?

Can’t say I blame him.

forest on June 3, 2014 at 3:37 PM

I use to read the Egyptian bloggers. They hated Ann Patterson who was chummy with the MB. Then she left and Ford was to be transferred. Many people believed that he was being sent to Egypt to start the unrest that was occurring in Syria.

Blake on June 3, 2014 at 3:37 PM

Isn’t his opponents has some Al-Qaeda element. I’m no Assad fan but do you want Al-Qaeda to win?

Oil Can on June 3, 2014 at 3:32 PM

Assad has multiple opponents, some of which do want democratic reforms. But such freedom fighters have to fend off Assad and al Qaeda.

Wethal on June 3, 2014 at 3:38 PM

But now he’s using chlorine gas against his opponents.”

We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.

Is he using a whole bunch of Chlorine Gas? If so, we need to get this into the Media so Obama can find out about it.

trubble on June 3, 2014 at 3:38 PM

Ford’s criticism goes directly to the heart of the Obama/Hillary foreign policy decision to decapitate the Qaddafi regime without controlling the situation on the ground.

Right.

Which doesn’t mean that whacking Gaddafi with a serious effort to control things on the ground would have been a good idea either.

It’s bad idea piled on top of bad idea piled on top of bad idea.

David Blue on June 3, 2014 at 3:39 PM

I’m reminded of the Cat in Hat book where the whole house is a mess and just before the mother steps it, the Cat cleans up the mess. That must be what the O is waiting for. Someone to step in just in the nick of time to save his legacy. Not happening. The hole will just keep getting deeper and deeper. I’m getting more convinced that this is going to lead to such a catastrophic mess that like a volcano, the world is going to have to release the pressure and many millions of lives will be the price.

Deano1952 on June 3, 2014 at 3:41 PM

Mali has been in trouble for decades I believe, and while organized Islamism and modern weapons are relatively new to the country it seems as if it has been a trouble spot ever since the French left. An elderly acquaintance used to tell stories of visiting a slave market there decades ago, when he was employed by the State Department in North Africa.

The Obama administration has screwed up all over the region, though, and the debacle in Libya will cost us peace in the region for a long time to come. What bozos these progressives have been,playing games with serious matters in volatile regions. What the hell were they thinking gun-running in Libya and Syria anyway?!

MTF on June 3, 2014 at 3:43 PM

Wait till Iran sets off its first nuclear test explosion. That’ll induce some mad scrambling amongst the neighbors. I’m assuming the saudis have already paid Pakistan for materials and assembly of one of its own, should the balloon go up.

butch on June 3, 2014 at 3:49 PM

This is disturbing news for all those who say that what’s happening in Syria isn’t in our national interests. (Looking at you Rand)

French suspect in Brussels Jewish museum attack spent year in Syria
Mehdi Nemmouche arrested in Marseille in connection with the killing of two Israeli tourists and a French volunteer

And:

American suicide bomber in Syria raises fears for U.S.

Isolationism may be popular but it’s bad policy.

kcewa on June 3, 2014 at 3:51 PM

So this shows our nation building in Iraq was a success? Better an ally of Iran than a failed state where al Qaeda could thrive?

No one ever considers that we had the option of removing Saddam and his henchmen without also removing the Republican Guard. Then let them choose a new tyrant who recognizes it is suicide to screw with us. That would have been too simple.

fadetogray on June 3, 2014 at 3:55 PM

If I were Mr. Ford I would think seriously about the witness protection program. We have seen what happens to other whistleblowers under obama.

inspectorudy on June 3, 2014 at 3:55 PM

Yeah, kind of hard to defend the whole “leading from behind”, anti-American, non-policy I would guess.

Meople on June 3, 2014 at 3:57 PM

The Obama Doctrine is to set the world on fire. After the roaring successes in Egypt and Libya it is completely understandable that Obama would want to put his fecal touch to work in yet another country.

Destruction is easy and it is the one thing that King Barky the Liar is very good at. Building things, not so much.

jukin3 on June 3, 2014 at 3:57 PM

Old and busted: “Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t”
New hotness: #SmartPower

nextgen_repub on June 3, 2014 at 4:03 PM

This ambassador wanted to be spicy, not fried.

faraway on June 3, 2014 at 4:03 PM

I think the credentials of a Chicago Community Organizer are just splendid for a run for POTUS. The crease in his pants.

/When will America turn on the Media and shut that down? This man is a global menace and must be removed from office. He is not only an menace, he is an absolute embarrassment. How DARE he host the enemy in OUR Rose Garden whilst freeing the most abhorrent enemies known to mankind?

Remove him from office. Now.

Key West Reader on June 3, 2014 at 4:03 PM

Wow, a lot of misstep whoppers happening now. I wonder what the fallout will be in a year.

jake49 on June 3, 2014 at 4:05 PM

Alinsky wanted chaos. He got it.

It’s crazy to think that someone read a chapter in a book, became obsessed by it, and then became President.

faraway on June 3, 2014 at 4:09 PM

Wait till Iran sets off its first nuclear test explosion.

butch on June 3, 2014 at 3:49 PM

It’s coming and it might not be a test or Iran.There are plenty of loose cannons with the money to get a nuke.

docflash on June 3, 2014 at 4:09 PM

No one ever considers that we had the option of removing Saddam and his henchmen without also removing the Republican Guard. Then let them choose a new tyrant who recognizes it is suicide to screw with us. That would have been too simple.

fadetogray on June 3, 2014 at 3:55 PM

That’s the problem with being so wedded to the notion of “Democracy Now!” It removes solutions like the one you mentioned. How about this one? In AFG, we could have put $5 billion on the table and said to the Taliban, “Osama Bin Laden’s head, and you get to stay in power. Or else.” Would it have worked? Who knows? But we’re on the verge of departing AFG and watching it revert right back to how we found it in 2001. There were 3 different flavors of Afghan police on my base, and they viewed each other as much greater threats than they did the Taliban.

dreadnought62 on June 3, 2014 at 4:09 PM

Wow, a lot of misstep whoppers happening now. I wonder what the fallout will be in a year.

jake49 on June 3, 2014 at 4:05 PM

Nuclear.

docflash on June 3, 2014 at 4:11 PM

The list of foreign policy failures is quite remarkable when you list them all. Not just little clunkers either,…great whoppin’ big missteps that hurt us badly and will take decades if ever, to repair.

Just like Carter. 9/11 was just a continuation of the mess he made of the Middle East.

Socratease on June 3, 2014 at 4:14 PM

That’s the problem with being so wedded to the notion of “Democracy Now!” It removes solutions like the one you mentioned. How about this one? In AFG, we could have put $5 billion on the table and said to the Taliban, “Osama Bin Laden’s head, and you get to stay in power. Or else.” Would it have worked? Who knows?

dreadnought62 on June 3, 2014 at 4:09 PM

All reports are that Bush tried just that. It didn’t work.

kcewa on June 3, 2014 at 4:16 PM

I guess when you “earn” an ambassadorship to Syria, you aren’t exactly one of Barry’s top bundlers.

pain train on June 3, 2014 at 4:17 PM

“I was no longer in a position where I felt I could defend the American policy,” he said. “We have been unable to address either the root causes of the conflict in terms of the fighting on the ground and the balance on the ground, and we have a growing extremism threat.” …

You mean the Sunni Jihadist vs. Shia Jihadist war in the former Ottoman province called Syria…that is easy to figure out. Shia and Sunnis don’t like each other because Ali got wacked way back in the day.

“There really is nothing we can point to that’s been very successful in our policy except the removal of about ninety-three percent of some of Assad’s chemical materials. But now he’s using chlorine gas against his opponents.”

Shocker…Shia used gas on Sunnis…did not see that coming…

At the beginning of Syria’s conflict, the U.S. State Department – including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – pushed hard for America to provide robust support for the moderate opposition; that recommendation was not borne out.

Thank god that failed…considering our historical inability to identify who is moderate in the Islamic world (In this case it might actually be Assad!) it might be better if we just let the various Muslims figure it out for themselves who is the greatest Jihadi.

I cannot say this enough: I really hope the GOP would let Syria go.

I know Obama’s foreign policy is a hot mess, but this obsession with Obama’s inaction in Syria is not only bad politically, it is bad strategically. The last thing the American public needs to be reminded of is the GOP is hot for another round of “fix the Islamic world”. It is also bad strategically because it means we will focus our attention on a part of the world that is irrelevant from an American strategic point of view at the expense of other places more important.

Last…Our enemies are killing each other in Syria. That is a good thing. If we get involved we will try to establish a democracy, which will get Sunni Islamist elected to power, like in Egypt until the military retook power. Same with Libya.

William Eaton on June 3, 2014 at 4:19 PM

So, when are the top military brass going to say, “I just couldn’t defend this CiC’s illegal orders any longer.” With our flaccid and/or complicit GOP, our thoroughly corrupt DOJ, who’s left to stop him now? Who????

Harbingeing on June 3, 2014 at 4:20 PM

This guy is in deep sh$$. If you don’t live up to your Odumbo oath, to be a worthy, loyal, and trusted LIAR, then you are worthless to the Regime.

rjoco1 on June 3, 2014 at 4:35 PM

Last…Our enemies are killing each other in Syria. That is a good thing. If we get involved we will try to establish a democracy, which will get Sunni Islamist elected to power, like in Egypt until the military retook power. Same with Libya.

William Eaton on June 3, 2014 at 4:19 PM

How about if we get involved without trying to establish a democracy? I think what happened in Egypt is a good model. Let’s call it the Chilean model.

Is a military dictatorship stable in the long run? No. Is it good for human rights? Probably not.

But it’s better than chaos or a Jihadi government – the only alternatives available at the moment.

kcewa on June 3, 2014 at 4:37 PM

The last thing the American public needs to be reminded of is the GOP is hot for another round of “fix the Islamic world”. – William Eaton on June 3, 2014 at 4:19 PM

Over six million Christians have been killed in the last decade in the Congo – and few care. I think you have your wish that America withdraws from being that beacon of Freedom and Liberty. (Compare that to our reactions about the same number of Jews killed four score ago)

Someone has to pull the weeds or it will take over the garden and choke everything out.

Reuben Hick on June 3, 2014 at 4:40 PM

What policy?

Ward Cleaver on June 3, 2014 at 4:41 PM

“I was no longer in a position where I felt I could defend the American policy,” he said.

What policy?

Ward Cleaver on June 3, 2014 at 4:41 PM

There’s policy? Who knew?
If I’d known there was gonna be policy, I’d have dressed better.

M240H on June 3, 2014 at 4:47 PM

He saw a “chris stephens” moment in his future and bailed….don’t blame him

neyney on June 3, 2014 at 4:59 PM

Yes indeed! We need some more of that “Smart Diplomacy”!

So King Barack, what are you going to ‘pivot’ to now?

GarandFan on June 3, 2014 at 5:20 PM

Yes indeed! We need some more of that “Smart Diplomacy”!

So King Barack, what are you going to ‘pivot’ to now?

GarandFan on June 3, 2014 at 5:20 PM

Women’s reproductive rights, golf, dinner, and a show.

Key West Reader on June 3, 2014 at 5:32 PM

More likely he didn’t want to end up like another U.S. Ambassador whose name rhymes with “STEVENS”.

Bishop on June 3, 2014 at 3:22 PM

Nailed it.

hawkdriver on June 3, 2014 at 5:41 PM

Bingo, Allah.

Recon5 on June 3, 2014 at 5:58 PM

In Muslim countries dictatorships are the ONLY form of government that work. Change the religion, then the culture will change, and then the government will change. Islam is failed civilization.

Mojave Mark on June 3, 2014 at 6:41 PM

Ford pretty much identified with the Obama red-line policy, encouraged McCain in his dubious support of unknown Syrian rebels and thought that Facebook was a valid foreign policy instrument.

According to wikipedia, he terminated his mission as “ambassador” in February (whatever that means, since we don’t have an embassy there).

Not sure why he is speaking now.

virgo on June 3, 2014 at 7:44 PM

Wait till Iran sets off its first nuclear test explosion.

butch on June 3, 2014 at 3:49 PM

It’s coming and it might not be a test or Iran.There are plenty of loose cannons with the money to get a nuke.

docflash on June 3, 2014 at 4:09 PM

Putting on my tin foil hat for a moment : we still have not found missing airplane flight 370..
Ok foil hat put back in box.. Too many rogue nations are out to take America down.

Bakokitty on June 3, 2014 at 8:39 PM

This guy is going to love his up close exposure to IRS audits in the very near future.

USNCVN on June 4, 2014 at 12:36 AM

Mali has been in trouble for decades I believe, and while organized Islamism and modern weapons are relatively new to the country it seems as if it has been a trouble spot ever since the French left. An elderly acquaintance used to tell stories of visiting a slave market there decades ago, when he was employed by the State Department in North Africa.

MTF on June 3, 2014 at 3:43 PM

What, as in the late 1900′s? When did the French pull out?

LawfulGood on June 4, 2014 at 11:31 AM