US Ambassador Robert Ford arrived in Damascus in late January 2011 at the height of the protest movement in Egypt.
America’s previous Ambassador to Syria was recalled by Washington following the 2005 assassination of former Prime minister Rafick Hariri, which was blamed, without evidence, on the government of Bashar Al Assad.
The author was in Damascus on January 27, 2011 when Washington’s Envoy presented his credentials to the Al Assad government. (See photo below).
At the outset of my visit to Syria in January 2011, I reflected on the significance of this diplomatic appointment and the role it might play in a covert process of political destabilization. I did not, however, foresee that this process would be implemented within less than two months following the instatement of Robert S. Ford as US Ambassador to Syria.
The reinstatement of a US ambassador in Damascus, but more specifically the choice of Robert S. Ford as US ambassador, bears a direct relationship to the onset of the protest movement in mid-March against the government of Bashar al Assad.
Robert S. Ford was the man for the job. As “Number Two” at the US embassy in Baghdad (2004-2005) under the helm of Ambassador John D. Negroponte, he played a key role in implementing the Pentagon’s “Iraq Salvador Option”. The latter consisted in supporting Iraqi death squadrons and paramilitary forces modelled on the experience of Central America.
The Western media has misled public opinion on the nature of the Arab protest movement by failing to address the support provided by the US State Department as well as US foundations (including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)) to selected pro-US opposition groups. Known and documented, the U.S. State Department “has been been funding opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, since 2006. (U.S. admits funding Syrian opposition – World – CBC News April 18, 2011)
The protest movement in Syria was upheld by the media as part of the “Arab Spring”, presented to public opinion as a pro-democracy protest movement which spread spontaneously from Egypt and the Maghreb to the Mashriq. The fact of the matter is that these various country initiatives were closely timed and coordinated. Michel Chossudovsky, The Protest Movement in Egypt: “Dictators” do not Dictate, They Obey Orders, Global Research, January 29, 2011)
There is reason to believe that events in Syria, however, were planned well in advance in coordination with the process of regime change in other Arab countries including Egypt and Tunisia.
The outbreak of the protest movement in the southern border city of Daraa was carefully timed to follow the events in Tunisia and Egypt.
It is worth noting that the US Embassy in various countries has played a central role in supporting opposition groups. In Egypt, for instance, the April 6 Youth Movement was supported directly by the US embassy in Cairo
Ambassador Robert S Ford presents his credentials to President Bashar al Assad, January 2011
Ambassador Robert S Ford and President Bashar Al Assad, January 2011
Who is Ambassador Robert Stephen Ford?
Since his arrival in Damascus in late January 2011, Ambassador Robert S. Ford played a central role in laying the groundwork as well as establishing contacts with opposition groups.
A functioning US embassy in Damascus was seen as a precondition for carrying out a process of political destabilization leading to “regime change”.
Ambassador Robert S., Ford is no ordinary diplomat. He was U.S. representative in January 2004 to the Shiite city of Najaf in Iraq. Najaf was the stronghold of the Mahdi army
A few months later he was appointed “Number Two Man” (Minister Counsellor for Political Affairs), at the US embassy in Baghdad at the outset of John Negroponte’s tenure as US Ambassador to Iraq (June 2004- April 2005). Ford subsequently served under Negroponte’s successor Zalmay Khalilzad prior to his appointment as Ambassador to Algeria in 2006.
Copyright Life Magazine 2004
June 29, 2004 U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte (2nd L) stands with his staff (3rd L)
Legal Advisor, Corrin Stone, Minister Counsellor for Political Affairs, Robert Ford (C), and
Deputy Chief of Staff, James Jeffrey (3rd R) while meeting officials of the Iraqi interim
government June 29, 2004 in Baghdad, Iraq.
New Ambassador Negroponte Meets With Iraqi Officials – Photo – LIFE)
Negroponte’s mandate as US ambassador to Iraq (together with Robert S. Ford) was to coordinate out of the US embassy, the covert support to death squads and paramilitary groups in Iraq with a view to fomenting sectarian violence and weakening the resistance movement. Robert S. Ford as “Number Two” (Minister Counsellor for Political Affairs) at the US Embassy played a central role in this endeavor.
To understand Robert Ford’s mandate in both Baghdad and subsequently in Damascus, it is important to reflect briefly on the history of US covert operations and the central role played by John D. Negroponte.
Negroponte and the “Salvador Option”
John Negroponte had served as US ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. As Ambassador in Tegucigalpa, he played a key role in supporting and supervising the Nicaraguan Contra mercenaries who were based in Honduras. The cross border Contra attacks into Nicaragua claimed some 50 000 civilian lives.
During the same period, Negroponte was instrumental in setting up the Honduran military death squads, “operating with Washington support’s, [they] assassinated hundreds of opponents of the US-backed regime.” (See Bill Vann, Bush Nominee linked to Latin American Terrorism, by Bill Vann, Global Research, November 2001,http://www.globalresearch.ca/
“Under the rule of General Gustavo Alvarez Martnez, Honduras’s military government was both a close ally of the Reagan administration and was “disappearing” dozens of political opponents in classic death squad fashion.
In a 1982 letter to The Economist, Negroponte wrote that it was “simply untrue to state that death squads have made their appearance in Honduras.” The Country Report on Human Rights Practices that his embassy sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took the same line, insisting that there were “no political prisoners in Honduras” and that the “Honduran government neither condones nor knowingly permits killings of a political or nonpolitical nature.”
Yet according to a four-part series in the Baltimore Sun in 1995, in 1982 alone the Honduran press ran 318 stories of murders and kidnappings by the Honduran military. The Sun described the activities of a secret CIA-trained Honduran army unit, Battalion 316, that used “shock and suffocation devices in interrogations. Prisoners often were kept naked and, when no longer useful, killed and buried in unmarked graves.”
On August 27, 1997, CIA Inspector General Frederick P. Hitz released a 211-page classified report entitled “Selected Issues Relating to CIA Activities in Honduras in the 1980’s.” This report was partly declassified on Oct. 22, 1998, in response to demands by the Honduran human rights ombudsman. Opponents of Negroponte are demanding that all Senators read the full report before voting on his nomination. to the position of US Permanent Representative to the UN}” (Peter Roff and James Chapin, Face-off: Bush’s Foreign Policy Warriors, Global Research November 2001, http://www.globalresearch.ca/
John Negroponte- Robert S. Ford. The Iraq “Salvador Option”
In January 2005, following Negroponte’s appointment as US ambassador to Iraq, the Pentagon confirmed in a story leaked to Newsweek that it was “considering forming hit squads of Kurdish and Shia fighters to target leaders of the Iraqi insurgency in a strategic shift borrowed from the American struggle against left-wing guerrillas in Central America 20 years ago”. (El Salvador-style ‘death squads’ to be deployed by US against Iraq militants – Times Online, January 10, 2005)
John Negroponte and Robert S. Ford at the US Embassy worked closely together on the Pentagon’s project. Two other embassy officials, namely Henry Ensher (Ford’s Deputy) and a younger official in the political section, Jeffrey Beals, played an important role in the team “talking to a range of Iraqis, including extremists”. (See The New Yorker, March 26, 2007). Another key individual in Negroponte’s team was James Franklin Jeffrey, America’s ambassador to Albania (2002-2004). Jeffrey is currently the US Ambassador to Iraq.
Negroponte also brought into the team one of his former collaborators Colonel James Steele (ret) from his Honduras heyday:
Under the “Salvador Option,” “Negroponte had assistance from his colleague from his days in Central America during the 1980’s, Ret. Col James Steele. Steele, whose title in Baghdad was Counselor for Iraqi Security Forces supervised the selection and training of members of the Badr Organization and Mehdi Army, the two largest Shi’ite militias in Iraq, in order to target the leadership and support networks of a primarily Sunni resistance. Planned or not, these death squads promptly spiralled out of control to become the leading cause of death in Iraq.
Intentional or not, the scores of tortured, mutilated bodies which turn up on the streets of Baghdad each day are generated by the death squads whose impetus was John Negroponte. And it is this U.S.-backed sectarian violence which largely led to the hell-disaster that Iraq is today. (Dahr Jamail, Managing Escalation: Negroponte and Bush’s New Iraq Team,. Antiwar.com, January 7, 2007)
John Negroponte described Robert Ford while at the embassy in Baghdad, as “one of these very tireless people … who didn’t mind putting on his flak jacket and helmet and going out of the Green Zone to meet contacts.” Robert S. Ford is fluent in both Arabic and Turkish. He was dispatched by Negroponte to undertake strategic contacts:
[O]ne Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called “snatch” operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation. The current thinking is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in, say, Syria, activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries. (Newsweek, January 8, 2005, emphasis added)
The plan had the support of the US appointed Iraqi government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi:
The Pentagon declined to comment, but one insider told Newsweek: “What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are. We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defence. And we are losing.”
Hit squads would be controversial and would probably be kept secret.
The experience of the so-called “death squads” in Central America remains raw for many even now and helped to sully the image of the United States in the region.
…. John Negroponte, the US Ambassador in Baghdad, had a front-row seat at the time as Ambassador to Honduras from 1981-85.
Death squads were a brutal feature of Latin American politics of the time. In Argentina in the 1970s and Guatemala in the 1980s, soldiers wore uniform by day but used unmarked cars by night to kidnap and kill those hostile to the regime or their suspected sympathisers.
In the early 1980s President Reagan’s Administration funded and helped to train Nicaraguan contras based in Honduras with the aim of ousting Nicaragua’s Sandinista regime. The Contras were equipped using money from illegal American arms sales to Iran, a scandal that could have toppled Mr Reagan.
It was in El Salvador that the United States trained small units of local forces specifically to target rebels.
The thrust of the Pentagon proposal in Iraq, according to Newsweek, is to follow that model and direct US special forces teams to advise, support and train Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shia militiamen to target leaders of the Sunni insurgency.
It is unclear whether the main aim of the missions would be to assassinate the rebels or kidnap them and take them away for interrogation. Any mission in Syria would probably be undertaken by US Special Forces.
Nor is it clear who would take responsibility for such a programme — the Pentagon or the Central Intelligence Agency. Such covert operations have traditionally been run by the CIA at arm’s length from the administration in power, giving US officials the ability to deny knowledge of it. (Times Online, op cit, emphasis added)
Under Negroponte’s helm at the US Embassy in Baghdad, a wave of covert civilian killings and targeted assassinations was unleashed. Engineers, medical doctors, scientists and intellectuals were also targeted. The objective was to create factional divisions between Sunni, Shiite, Kurds and Christians, as well as weed out civilian support for the Iraqi resistance. The Christian community was one of the main targets of the assassination program.
The Pentagon’s objective also consisted in training an Iraqi Army, Police and Security Forces, which would carry out a homegrown “counterinsurgency” program (unofficially) on behalf of the U.S.
The Role of General David Petraeus
A “Multi-National Security Transition Command Iraq” (MNSTC) was established under the command of General David Petraeus with the mandate to train and equip a local Iraqi Army, Police and Security forces. General David Petraeus’s (who was appointed by Obama to head the CIA in July 2011), assumed the command of the MNSTC in June 2004 at the very outset of Negroponte’s tenure as ambassador.