U.S. May Be Doing Something Useful in Syria

U.S. ambassador Robert Ford's visit is being welcomed by demonstrators

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U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford only assumed his position in December but his itinerary Friday suggests that active diplomacy may well be forming inside the serene white buildings of the U.S. Embassy in Syria’s capital. Ford traveled to Hama in an unannounced visit that made the United States’ support for protesters clear and inspired jubilation Hama’s streets. It’s worth seeing crowds greet the U.S. convoy with red and pink roses and what appear to be entire olive trees in this Washington Post video.

The United States has only bothered to have an Ambassador in Syria since February of last year when President Obama decided to stop the Bush Administration’s practice of thumbing its nose at the often touchy Syrian regime as the best way to handle diplomatic relations between the two countries. Since Ford has been on duty his presence has been questioned partly because it appeared he wasn’t dong much. But as White House press secretary Jay Carney said in April, “Having an ambassador to Syria has allowed us to be in Syria, in the presence of the government to make our views known directly.” Now it appears that Ford has been given free rein to make the United State’s views known to more than just regime officials.

In a statement the Syrian Foreign Ministry condemmend Ford’s visit with unsurprising hyperbole with regard to perceived American intentions: "The presence of the US ambassador in Hama without previous permission is obvious proof of a clear evidence of the United States' involvement in current events in Syria and its attempt to incite an escalation in the situation, which disturbs Syria's security and stability."

On the contrary, unlike the political situation in Libya, Ford’s action and the United States’ retention of a full diplomatic post in Damascus indicates that the Obama Administration has at least a small measure of hope that Syria will stabilize.

The State Department responded to the accusations: "The fundamental intention was to make absolutely clear with his physical presence that we stand with those Syrians who are expressing their right to speak for change."

The key for possible diplomacy is that Ford is physically in Syria. In February when the Libyan regime began to falter U.S. diplomats there were immediately evacuated from Tripoli. The United States is fully aware that unlike Qaddafi and unlike his father, Bashar al-Assad isn’t a war criminal yet. It appears that for now decision-makers in Damascus and Washington have decided to nudge for reform without abandoning ship.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.