The New York Times reports that angry crowds in Syria have attacked the U.S. embassy in Damascus, apparently in response to U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford’s visit last week to the city of Hama, which was seen as a gesture of support for Syrians protesting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Former Bush administration official Elliott Abrams suggests that the Obama administration has "two options" in regard to Ambassador Ford:
The first is to recall him, citing this attack on the embassy plus previous Syrian misconduct. The second is to send him back to Hama and to ratchet up his public displays of disgust with the regime and its behavior. If he does not take those steps, there is no point in his remaining in Syria. If he does take them, either he will become a symbol of resistance to tyranny (always a great role for any American envoy) or he will be expelled from Syria. The latter would dramatize America’s final break with Assad and allow us to expel the Syrian ambassador, the wretched Imad Mustapha. Either way we win.
Leaving aside Abrams strange desire to impose an American "symbol" into what is, and should be, a Syrian affair, let’s note that Ford is only there to make such a point because the Obama administration ignored Abrams’ earlier advice to recall him:
The Obama administration erred badly by sending an envoy — in a recess appointment — for this move was understood in the region as a reduction of U.S. pressure on Syria despite its increasingly dominant role in Lebanon. We should pull our ambassador, as we did in Libya, and unveil a hard-hitting political and human rights campaign against a bloody regime whose people want it gone.
The time may come to recall Ambassador Ford, but his visit to Hama sent a subtle but unmistakable message of solidarity to the protesters, and a warning to the Assad regime. It was an appropriate use of an important diplomatic tool.
Abrams, on the other hand, seems to know only one tool: the bullhorn. The Assad regime would love nothing more than to turn its current crisis from a Syria issue into a U.S.-Syria issue. It’s odd how anxious Abrams seems to be to help Assad do just that.