Syrian protestors greet US ambassador Robert Ford with roses as his car entered Hama this afternoon during the midst of more Friday protests against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Ford wished to show his solidarity with the opposition, but is he also signaling a change in American policy?
So far the administration has refrained from demanding Assad step down and counseled only that he open up a dialogue with the opposition, a dialogue that Ford himself has helped broker.The problem is that in contrast to this regime-generated opposition, the real opposition, those Syrians who are risking their lives in the streets of cities like Hama, don’t want dialogue with a ruling class that has killed well more than a thousand Syrian civilians. What the opposition wants, as it chants here, serenading Ford, is to “topple the regime.”
Does the White House now want this as well, to see Assad pushed from power in Damascus? If so, why not say it already? Otherwise, why is Ford in Hama? Is it to lend protestors the shelter of an American diplomatic presence? Or maybe it is to prevent Assad from committing further outrages against his own people, violence that would make it even more difficult for Washington to put a positive spin on dialogue between Assad and the opposition. Or, maybe it’s just to silence critics of the administration, a White House that needs to show Ford is serving a useful purpose in Damascus and not merely lending prestige to a murderous regime. We’re waiting for the administration to clarify its Syria policy: if the US envoy is out in support of the opposition, does he agree with them as well?—that Assad has to go?