The U.S. ambassador who witnessed firsthand the start of the Syrian civil war criticized his former boss Friday, saying the Obama administration lacks a clear strategy behind its goals in Syria.
Amb. Robert Ford served as the U.S. ambassador to Syria from 2011 to 2014, the peak of the conflict. From the outset of the conflict, Ford was heavily critical of Syria President Bashar al-Assad, even though as ambassador he was supposed to be a liaison to the Syrian government. Ford drew the ire of al-Assad’s government when he was seen visiting residents in the city of Hama in July 2011, which was held by Syrian opposition forces. Ever since he left his position, his criticism of the situation in Syria has touched on President Barack Obama, as well as al-Assad.
“I’m at something of a loss as to what the American strategy, this administration’s strategy, is.” said Ford during a briefing held by the Middle East Institute on Capitol Hill Friday.
Ford explained how Obama’s goal for Syria is fairly well developed: to restore stability and get “a new government of some kind.” It is the strategy that is not evident. “What they are doing to leverage a deal is not clear to me,” he said. “This has always been, for me, the mismatch, between the strategy and the tactics.”
When asked to offer up some policy recommendations for how to address current problems, Ford made one thing clear: al-Assad cannot have a place in the future of the country.
“Bashar al-Assad is not part of the solution, Bashar al-Assad is part of the problem,” noted Ford.
It would appear that Secretary of State Kerry, Ford’s former boss, does not agree. While visiting in Greece last December, Kerry hinted toward the idea that al-Assad might not have to be removed from office.
In Ford’s opinion, keeping Assad in power would be disastrous. He noted that while the world has focused on Islamic State’s rampage across the region, it is actually al-Assad who has killed seven times more civilians. Because of the al-Assad onslaught, Ford believes there will be no unity in Syria with Assad in power.
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