Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


The New Consensus: Confirm Robert Ford!

Neoconservatives about-face on U.S. envoy to Syria

Print Email
Robert Ford on the ground in June.(Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, has proved a tricky ideological litmus test, for no people more so than neoconservatives. On the one hand, Ford, a career diplomat, is basically a hero at this point: he visited the besieged city of Hama, briefly leading President Assad to withdraw his troops; he has stayed even as angry mobs threatened to storm the embassy in Damascus; and he has several times provided crucial rhetorical support in favor of the courageous dissenters with bravery and aplomb—“how ironic,” he wrote at one point on the embassy’s Facebook page, “that the Syrian Government lets an anti-U.S. demonstration proceed freely while their security thugs beat down olive branch-carrying peaceful protesters elsewhere.” On the other hand, Ford, the first U.S. envoy to Damascus since the Bush administration withdrew the prior one in 2005 following the Syrian-backed assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, is a prime example of the Obama administration’s stance of engaging with odious regimes, notably Assad’s and Iran’s, and the neoconservatives hate this, which had generally led them to oppose Ford. For an exemplary weighing of the pros and cons, check out Lee Smith’s column from April. For another, see my own post from last month, in which I noted that Syria had cracked down hard on Hama—a direct rebuke to the United States, one that should not be rewarded by, perhaps, continuing to have a diplomatic presence in the country. (And neither Lee nor I are neocons.) The question has an added sense of urgency because Ford’s was a recess appointment, which will expire at the end of the year unless the Senate confirms him.

Well a funny thing happened starting late last week: all of a sudden (you know, almost as if it were coordinated), many neoconservatives began to clamor for Ford’s confirmation. “The Obama Administration has called upon Assad to go and Ambassador Ford has shown his determination to reach out to the Syrian people,” argued Elliott Abrams. In recent interviews he has expressed what I think is exactly the right attitude toward the regime, the people of Syria, and his own role there. The regime clearly sees him as an enemy and the demonstrators as an ally.” Max Boot accused Senate Republicans of “dragging their feet” and proclaimed, “As long as he can stay in Damascus, he will support the demands of the protesters. The Senate should give him the opportunity to continue his valuable work.” The Foreign Policy Initiative, one of the several hundred groups Bill Kristol helped found, changed tack, and now supports his confirmation. “Ford has been doing a terrific job, and at some personal risk, of making clear to the people of Syria that the U.S. stands with them and against Assad,” said Robert Kagan, citing changed circumstances.

It’s probably helped that Ford has lately given a few interviews in which he has been his usual awesome self. “I’m sorta amazed that they’re not fucking crazy,” he told the conservative Daily Caller in praise of the protesters. He told the Washington Times that he was worried about what would happen to Christians after the Assad regime falls. Clearly there is some conservative outreach being done—perhaps a strategy on the part of the Obama administration to get him confirmed. But part of taking the position that Ford ought to be confirmed after having previously thought otherwise—and this includes myself!—means acknowledging that we were wrong: that the administration’s policy of engagement, while it may not always have felt like the most righteous thing in the world, was actually an effective means of advancing our strategic and moral interests. I am pleased to do this, and I hope my fellow turncoats will join me.

In Reversal, Conservative Group Urges U.S. Senate to Confirm U.S. Envoy to Syria [Yahoo! The Envoy]
Confirm Robert Ford [CFR Pressure Points]
Confirm Robert Ford as Syrian Ambassador [LAT]
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford on What Comes After Assad [Daily Caller]
Religious Minorities Fear Syria Islamists [Washington Times]
Related: Shadow Play [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: U.S. Re-Upping Syrian Ambassador
The Brave Man Robert Ford
Ambassador Ford Stands Up for Syrians
How Does Kristol Do It?

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

The New Consensus: Confirm Robert Ford!

Neoconservatives about-face on U.S. envoy to Syria

More on Tablet:

11 Non-Jewish Celebrities—and 2 Jewish Ones—Show Off Their Hebrew Tattoos

By Marjorie Ingall — You don’t have to be Jewish to sport Hebrew ink. But some of these stars should have thought twice before going under the needle.