Last Updated: 12:15 AM, January 24, 2012
Posted: 10:34 PM, January 23, 2012
This weekend’s announcement of the withdrawal of our ambassador from Damascus underlines a strange phenomenon: Overseas ambassadors sometimes manage to make lemonade out of President Obama’s foreign-policy lemons.
When Obama sent an ambassador to Syria (the Bush administration withdrew the US envoy in 2005), he signaled to President Bashar al-Assad, a vicious tyrant allied with America’s worst enemies, that we’d make any possible gesture to woo him and demand nothing in return.
Once there, our ambassador, career State Department Mideast hand Robert Ford, turned out to be a bold representative of America’s quest to help victims of tyranny.
Soon after Ford arrived in Damascus in December 2010, it became clear that Assad wasn’t amenable to wooing. But a few months later, Syria’s vast Sunni majority joined the Arab uprising against long-established tyrants — and Ford bravely joined them in Homs and elsewhere, signaling US solidarity with their cause.
Some argue that Obama should let Ford remain, so we can familiarize ourselves with the various alternatives to Assad. Then again, security — cited by Washington as the reason he’d be recalled — is a serious concern in Syria’s chaos.
At a minimum, recalling Ford should be accompanied by clear statements from Washington that America will be more involved in Syria’s future, rather than less.
Can we be? Over the weekend, the Arab League called on Assad to step down and mapped a transition to an elected government. Yesterday Assad rejected the plan, leaving the league with one serious option: refer his case to the UN Security Council.
But that’s an empty threat. An increasingly disagreeable Russia won’t allow any council action on Syria. Instead, Moscow announced over the weekend a $550 million deal to sell Assad 36 shiny new Yak-130 combat jets.
Whatever happened to Obama’s famous “reset,” which was supposed to turn Moscow animosity (allegedly caused by President George W. Bush’s ruinous policies) into a beautiful friendship with strongman Vladimir Putin?
Gone. Instead, our new ambassador, Michael McFaul, is riling up Putin’s yes men. Arriving in Moscow last week, McFaul met loud media jeers, accusing him of being no “Russia expert” and worse: an agitator who’d try to import the Arab Spring to Russia just as Putin is expecting a new coronation from the March presidential election.
As Russia becomes an ever-painful thorn in Obama’s side, the background music that accompanied McFaul’s arrival indicates that “reset” is ready to be reset.
On another world hot spot, meanwhile, top Washington officials almost daily warn Israel in stark tones against attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities. But America’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, Daniel Shapiro, last week told a Haifa audience that “sanctions are not the only option” for America to stop Iran from acquiring a bomb.
Shapiro is an observant Jew who mostly tweets in (adequate) Hebrew. His hint that the military is making plans went slightly further than Washington’s previous “all options” statements.
Wow. If only we had an ambassador in Tehran . . . (just kidding).
Even at the United Nations — where our ambassador, Susan Rice, has long seemed more like the UN envoy to America than the other way around — one of her new deputies, Ambassador Joseph Torsella, looks ready to strike a new note. Over the weekend, he hinted in a speech that America will now keep an ever-sharper eye on rising UN costs.
True, it took Obama 2 1/2 years to even appoint an ambassador to oversee UN mismanagement. But Torsella is doing a fine job, demanding various belt-tightening measures. (Of course, it is an election year, when politicians usually remember that American voters largely disapprove of Turtle Bay.)
The job of ambassador lost much of its point with the advent of modern communications. But Obama’s envoys in some world hot spots may have found a new purpose: course correction. They aren’t — heaven forbid! — defying the president. Rather, they’re helping debunk fallacies and inject realism into cloudy thinking.
Long gone are the wild hopes that Obama’s charm would magically disarm the world’s bad guys, but the administration has yet to form policies to replace the ones based on that premise. Let’s hope talented diplomats keep pushing Washington in the right direction.