The Cable

Robert Ford attends Syrian funeral shortly before attack

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford keeps putting himself in harm's way. This Sunday, he attended the funeral of a Syrian activist shortly before it was attacked by Syrian security forces.

"US amb. Robert Ford shows up at the wake of slain #syria activist Giyath Matar. An hour later the funeral tent is trashed by security forces," tweeted Washington Post foreign correspondent Liz Sly Tuesday afternoon.

We found a video that shows Ford at the funeral, which took place on Sept. 11. The State Department today confirmed to The Cable that he was in attendance. We also found a video (warning: graphic) of Matar's tortured and mutilated body, posted by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has been meticulously documenting cases of alleged abuse against domestic protesters by the Syrian security forces.

"Security forces corpse [sic] submitted his corpse to his family and told them that you can make from his body a ‘Shawerma' sandwich!!!" the human rights organization reported.

Ford, who was installed as the U.S. envoy to Damascus in a recess appointment, was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today. But unless he can overcome a tough confirmation fight on the Senate floor, he will be forced to return to Washington at the end of the year.

The group also posted a video of the body of Ahmad Sulaiman Ayrut, who they allege was killed in the government attack on Matar's funeral.

The State Department condemned Matar's killing at a Monday press briefing, but only later confirmed to The Cable Ford's attendance at the funeral. So far, State has not commented on the violence at the funeral.

"This was a very high-profile human rights activist in Syria, apparently arrested on September 6th and died in custody -- again, further evidence of this regime's brutality, indiscriminate force, and absolute disregard for human life and for the human rights of its citizens," said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

There was no mention of Ford's attendance on the U.S. embassy of Damascus's Facebook page. The last Facebook posting by Ford came on Sept. 8, where he references threats being made on his life by supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"[Commenter] Mujtaba Xr warns me that I will face being killed if I continue my criticism of the repression in Syria. I take his post to be a perfectly good example of the kind of intolerance that has provoked such discontent in Syria," Ford wrote. "Remember that I am one of the few international observers here on the ground; if only the Syrian government would allow international media to move around the country freely like we did in Iraq!"

Ford's close call comes only two weeks after he was physically assaulted by a regime supporter while standing outside an anti-government sit-in by some lawyers at the Syrian Bar Association. The State Department didn't say anything about that incident either, until it was reported by The Cable.

Of course, it's possible that Ford is actually trying to get himself kicked out of Syria by the Assad regime. That would allow the Obama administration to spotlight Assad's intolerance and allow the State Department to avoid a fight over Ford's Senate confirmation.

The Cable

Graham: I’m 'disappointed' with Perry's stance on Afghanistan

The internal GOP battle over U.S. policy in Afghanistan took another turn last night when Gov. Rick Perry endorsed Jon Huntsman's call for a speedy withdrawal -- and hawkish GOP senators are not happy with Perry over the remarks.

"I agree with Gov. Huntsman when we talk about it's time to bring our young men and women home as soon, and obviously as safely, as we can," Perry said. "And I think the entire conversation about, how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan, I don't think so at this particular point in time."

Politico's Ben Smith wrote that Perry's Afghanistan position calls into question his identification as a "hawk internationalist," as a Perry advisor told The Cable.

As the Perry policy team grows, some of the foreign policy advisors suggested to him by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are taking full-time positions on the campaign. The Cable has learned that Rumseld book researcher Victoria Coates, also known as the Red State blogger "Academic Elephant," has taken on the role of foreign policy director for the campaign.

Still, Perry's foreign policy identity doesn't always follow the GOP hawk's playbook, and that is irking some senior GOP senators, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

"I'm disappointed that some people in our party are not embracing the concept that the outcome in Afghanistan will determine our national security fate for decades to come," Graham told The Cable, when asked about Perry's remarks. "I would like to hear [Perry] talk about what does it matter to us as a nation whether Afghanistan is a success or a failure."

"We have 300 million people with targets on their backs here at home. The 100,000 are fighting these guys over there so we don't have to fight them over here," Graham said. "We are going to hand over responsibility to the Afghan government. But the 100,000 troops are needed to stabilize the country."

"Romney's been great, he says ‘listen to the generals,'" Graham said. "The transition plan has been accelerated [by Obama] in a very unwise way."

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said he didn't want to criticize any presidential candidates' statements, but did say that the isolationist trend in the GOP is growing.

"I've voiced many time concerns about the trends toward isolationism and that's always been present in our party, but there's no doubt the economic situation has caused them to gain more adherence," McCain told The Cable.

In a sign of how internally conflicted the GOP is on Afghanistan, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) appeared undecided on whether he supported President Barack Obama's plan to withdraw all 30,000 surge troops from Afghanistan by the summer of 2012.

"For some time, we've said publicly we're very concerned about the way we're distorting the Afghan economy right now," he told The Cable, referring to the influx of foreign aid.

But does he support Obama's policy?

"I think the initial steps that have been taken -- I'm not talking about the whole 30,000 -- I don't have any problem with the initial steps," Corker said.

But what about the withdrawal of the entirety of the 30,000 surge troops?  Corker said that policy probably will get changed anyway.

"Well, each step along the way, I'm sure the president is going to massage what he's doing.... For what it's worth, we're spending a lot of time in our office on that. I'm taking a trip there in the near future and you're asking me this question six weeks earlier than you should."

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