“I’m sorta amazed that they’re not fucking crazy,” said Robert Ford, America’s chief diplomat in Syria in an atypically undiplomatic moment.
Ford was discussing how impressed he is with those standing up to the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and specifically his amazement at how the “many [who] have been in prison for years and years, often in solitary confinement” have mentally persevered under trials that would have broken lesser men.
“The street protestors and the street protest organizers just amaze me for their sheer courage,” he raved of the regime opponents more generally. “I don’t think Americans can really get a grasp on really how dangerous this is, to go out on these streets with this army and these thugs.”
Nominated in 2010 by President Obama to be America’s first ambassador to Syria since 2005, Ford ran into opposition from Senate Republicans who didn’t think America should assign the state sponsor of terrorism an ambassador. But President Obama circumvented Senate opposition and gave Ford a recess appointment. He arrived in Damascus at the beginning of 2011, immediately before protests erupted against Syria’s dictatorial regime.
Since then, the regime has killed more than 2,700 Syrians and injured many more, according to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
In an extensive interview with The Daily Caller from his mission in Syria, Ford detailed the difficulties of being an ambassador in Syria at this moment of tumult, his quest to bear witness to the evil of the Assad regime and what a post-Assad Syria might look like.
While Ford says he “can move around Damascus very easily,” he says he has to “ask for permission” if he wants to leave the capital — requests the Syrian government routinely denies.
“I have asked for permission to visit five cities in the past week and every request has been rejected,” he lamented. “So when I go out, and I ignore it, I always get this very stern warning that there will be consequences.”
Though defying the regime carries risks, Ford says sitting at his desk all day would be “the worst thing you can do.”
“At a certain point you just say, I do the best planning me and my security teams can do, and then you go out there and you do it.”
Ford has made multiple trips outside of Damascus to meet with protesters and bear witness to Assad’s brutality, most notably a visit in July to the Syrian city of Hama. In 1982, Bashar-al Assad’s father, Hafez, massacred tens of thousands of people in Hama while attempting to put down opposition to his regime. But Ford said that a massacre on that scale is unlikely today given how modern communication has made it near impossible to cover up.
“I think the technology of modern communication has overruled the government’s capacity to just kill,” he explained. “It doesn’t work. And I mean, the protestors, unlike 1982, are fully aware that the international community is watching them.”
Also significant, Ford said, is his presence as a personal representative of the American president, which is why he says it is imperative the Senate officially confirm him.
“Lower level diplomats are great, but they don’t carry the weight, they don’t carry the prestige of the president’s personal representative,” he explained.
If the Senate doesn’t confirm Ford, his recess appointment will expire at the end of the year.