- By Will InbodenWill Inboden is Executive Director of the William P. Clements, Jr. Center for History, Strategy, and Statecraft at the University of Texas-Austin. He also serves as Associate Professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Distinguished Scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.
The prevailing debate over whether or not the U.S. Senate should confirm Robert Ford as the U.S. ambassador to Syria raises many interesting points, as highlighted by the likes of Elliott Abrams, Mike Singh, and Senator Joseph Lieberman, among others. Elliott lays out some specific criteria that should be explored, specifically to what extent if confirmed Ambassador Ford would be able to continue his efforts to support the Syrian opposition. Senator Lieberman articulates why he now supports the Senate confirmation of Ambassador Ford, following Ford’s courageous outreach to the residents of Hama. And Mike succinctly describes the diplomatic dynamics that Ford’s presence or withdrawal would help shape, while coming down on the side of withdrawal.
But on a related point of diplomatic representation, there should be no debate: the Obama administration should immediately expel Syrian Ambassador to the United States Imad Moustapha. For maximum effect, the administration should urge allies such as the United Kingdom and France to do the same with the Syrian ambassadors to their respective countries.
This story from today’s Wall Street Journal describes in exhaustive and chilling detail what has been reported anecdotally for the past few months: how the Syrian embassies in free countries have been targeting Syrian dissidents for surveillance, harassment, intimidation, and worse. And how this campaign has been coordinated with the Assad regime’s heinous oppression of the protest movement within Syria. Ambassador Moustapha and his cohort have been among the most egregious offenders in the US.
Much of the debate over whether or not the United States should maintain an ambassador in Damascus, or call outright for Assad to step down, has centered on the value and efficacy of “symbolic” gestures such as calling an ambassador home or demanding that a dictator cede power. But in the case of Ambassador Moustapha and his thugs, the issue is as much substantive than symbolic – expelling him from the United States would remove one of the Assad regime’s primary means for stifling dissent abroad. And it would also free the Syrian diaspora to be even more vigorous in its support for its fellow dissidents and protestors in Syria.
Mindful of this, the State Department has already confined Ambassador Moustapha to a 25-mile radius around Washington DC. But there is little to be lost, and much to be gained, from expelling him outright. Any of his staff members who are suspected of targeting Syrian dissidents should also be sent packing with him.
Of course, if the Obama administration expels Moustapha, then it is more likely than not that the Assad gangsters will reciprocate in kind by not accepting the appointment of Ambassador Ford in Damascus. So be it – especially since in that case the diplomatic burden will be on the Assad regime for rejecting him.
The Obama Administration has repeated incessantly its refrain that the Assad regime has lost its “legitimacy” to rule in Damascus. If so – and of course it is so – then Ambassador Moustapha has certainly lost his legitimacy to represent that odious regime in Washington.