Ambassador Ford: I have one big regret which is that the Syrians in the opposition always thought that we would send in our military to save them from Bashar al Assad. And as much as I told them it wasn’t going to happen, they didn’t believe me, they just told me ‘America, Statue of Liberty, Land of Freedom, they’ll come.’
But America didn’t come, not after Assad used chemical weapons on his own people in 2013, and not after he continued to violate ceasefire after ceasefire negotiated by former US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Joce Sterman: If the US had taken strong military action immediately after the use of chemical weapons by Assad and that speech about the red line. Do you think things would be any different?
Ambassador Ford: Well I do. Had we done a short but stern strike we might have given impetus to the Syrian government to go to the Geneva talks and actually engaged seriously with the opposition to find a political settlement
The civil war in Syria that began in 2011 as a tiny village protest against an unpopular president spiraled into chaos, as hundreds of opposition groups, including ISIS, fought for control of the country. More than 400,000 Syrians have been killed, and the mass exodus of millions has created a crisis in Europe, and helped launch a populist movement around the world.
Joce Sterman: Outside of those very obvious humanitarian concerns, can you tell us why should the average Americans care in terms of strategy in Syria?
Ambassador Robert Ford: Well two things, so number 1 we have US military forces in combat operations in Syria, and I don’t think many Americans understand that. But we have 400 US Special Operations forces deployed next to Syria or in Syria, helping with Syrian fighters against the Islamic state. Every day with new combat operations, there’s a risk to our own young people in uniform who are over there. We have seen how extremists operating out of Syria have attacked cities like Paris, like Brussels in Belgium, in Germany and so happily they have not yet struck in the United States, but there’s always a risk. And so how to get rid of these extremist elements in Syria is a concern to all Americans. We don’t want what happened in Paris to happen in an American city.
Russia has stepped into the power vacuum - sending thousands of troops and launching airstrikes that helped Assad regain control of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, last December. The Obama administration was outraged by Russia coming to Assad's rescue. But the new administration is calling for cooperation with Russia.
Sean Spicer, January 23rd: I think if there’s a way that we can combat ISIS with any country, whether it’s Russia or anyone else, and we have a shared national interest in that, sure we’ll take it.
Joce Sterman: What do you think about Russia as in can they be a strong ally for us in this battle against ISIS?
Ambassador Ford: I think they could be if they wanted to be, but I’m not sure they want to be. The primary purpose of the Russian intervention had nothing to do with fighting the Islamic State. So now going forward, does Vladimir Putin want to turn 90 or 100 degrees and instead want to focus on the Islamic State? That’s up to Vladimir Putin. I think were he to make that decision, then there might be room for the United States to cooperate with the Russians.
Joce Sterman: And if you were in this new Administration, what would you tell them at this point?
Ambassador Ford: Don’t think the Americans can fix these problems by themselves because they can’t. They are going to need allies. And I think Americans should be asking themselves, are we going to be in this kind of war forever and ever, is that our destiny? Or are we going to start dealing with some of the politics that helped create the situations over there in the first place.
A new report by Amnesty International claims Bashar al Assad has hanged 13,000 Syrians between 2011-2015. President Trump’s executive order last month suspended indefinitely the ability of Syrian refugees to come to the United States. Instead, Trump has proposed the establishment of “safe zones” in Syria, a proposal that the Syrian Foreign Ministry has said will “pose a violation of the Syrian sovereignty.”