The lawmakers who went out on a limb to support deeply unpopular strikes against Syria tore into President Obama's envoy to the war-plagued country on Thursday.
Both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – the only panel to approve the use of force – deluged the administration with criticism during Ambassador Robert Ford's first Capitol Hill appearance since Obama called off military strikes last month. They called the administration's reluctance to fully back the rebels battling Bashar Assad an “embarrassment” and accused the White House of lacking a strategy to bring to an end the conflict that has been raging since March 2011.
“I'd like to hear, in some setting, the detail of what our effort is,” said panel Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a foreign policy hawk. “Because I just don't get the sense that we are headed anywhere.”
Ford vehemently defended the administration's support for the opposition.
“There isn't a person on my team at the State Department who doesn't feel frustrated by the Syrian problem in general,” he said. “But I have to say, we do provide support – we provide a lot of support.”
Ford went on to list humanitarian efforts and democracy-building efforts. His revelation on Thursday that the administration for the first time provided trucks to the opposition – rebels had so far had to rent their transportation – however, angered lawmakers rather than impressing them.
“You all were going to deliver those trucks when I was there in August,” said Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the top Republican on the panel. “Do you feel good about the strategy that we have now, with these people that we have left out on a limb and told them we were going to support their efforts against this regime and against al Qaeda?”
Ford placed some of the blame on the western-backed rebels.
“Now we need the opposition to come forward and say, this is how we would put [a transition government] together,” Ford said. “Very frankly, they were so busy pushing us to intervene militarily that they have left aside the need to put together this alternative, which sooner or later must come.”
He reiterated the White House's position that “ultimately, Syrians must fix this problem.”
The hearing comes as the United States and Russia are working to pull off a last-ditch peace conference next month in Geneva. The White House has said it does not believe the situation can be resolved militarily but instead wants the Assad regime and the opposition to come together and agree on a transitional government.
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