Robert Ford said in an interview with the PBS NewsHour that as a
result of U.S. hesitancy, extremist threats to the United States had
Ford is a respected veteran diplomat who served as ambassador to
Damascus for more than three years until his retirement in late
April. He had left the country in 2011 after the United States
received threats against his personal safety in Syria.
His remarks appeared likely to refuel the debate over Obama's
cautious approach to the war, just as the White House has launched a
campaign to counter criticisms of the president’s foreign policy.
Syrians voted on Tuesday in an election – derided as a sham by
opposition factions and Western governments – that seemed set to
further consolidate President Bashar al-Assad's rule.
The election “is a signal, to us, to other countries in the region,
to Europe, et cetera, that Assad is not leaving,” Ford said. “He is
staying deeply entrenched in the capital in Syria, even as other
parts of the country remain outside his control.”
Responding to Ford’s comments, State Department spokeswoman Marie
Harf said, "He's a private citizen. He's entitled to his views. What
we're focused on today is the officials who are still here, who are
working on Syria, who share the kind of frustration you've heard
from the president, the secretary and others."
Obama first called on Assad to leave power in August 2011.
But he has resisted deeper American involvement in Syria, and in
August last year balked at cruise missile strikes on the country in
response to Assad’s reported use of chemical weapons. Instead, a
U.S.-Russian agreement was reached to transport Syria’s chemical
arms out of the country.
The United States has provided limited training and military
supplies to moderate rebels, who have largely been eclipsed by
radical Islamist factions, some tied to al Qaeda. U.S. officials
last month said that Washington would expand support for vetted
rebel groups, but provided few specifics.
[to top of second column]
"It's not clear to me yet if they are prepared to ramp up
(assistance) in a such a way that would be meaningful on the ground
and that's what matters,” Ford said in the interview.
"We need - and we have long needed - to help moderates in the Syrian
opposition with both weapons and other non-lethal assistance.
"Had we done that a couple of years ago, had we ramped it up,
frankly the al Qaeda groups that have been winning adherents would
have been unable to compete with the moderates who frankly we have
much in common with,” Ford said.
Meanwhile, he said, Russia and especially Iran were massively
increasing their assistance to Assad.
"Our policy was not evolving and finally I got to a point where I
could no longer defend it publicly,” Ford said.
(Reporting Warren Strobel and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by David
storey and Mohammad Zargham)
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