The Cable

Robert Ford: Confirmed!

What a difference a year makes. U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford was confirmed by the Senate on Monday evening after serving under a recess appointment because the Senate would not confirm him the first time around.

It didn't take much to win the Senate's approval. All Ford had to do was get attacked by pro-regime thugs while attending a meeting of Syrian lawyers, attend a funeral of a Syrian activist right before it was attacked by Syrian government forces, and get his car pelted with eggs, tomatoes, concrete blocks, and iron bars as he was chased by a violent mob after visiting a Syrian politician.

In short, the Senate finally saw that Ford was more of an irritant to the Syrian regime than a concession to them, and so the GOP foreign policy brain trust reversed itself and supported his confirmation.

After Ford's latest run in with violent pro-regime Syrians, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the incident to make a push for his confirmation.

"Ambassador Ford has shown admirable courage putting himself on the line to bear witness to the situation on the ground in Syria. He is a vital advocate for the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people now under siege by the Asad regime," Clinton said Sept. 29. "I encourage the United States Senate to show our support for Ambassador Ford by confirming him as soon as possible, so he can continue, fully confirmed, his critical and courageous work."

White House spokesman Jay Carney piled on the same day.

"Day after day, Ambassador Ford puts himself at great personal risk to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," he said at the Sept. 29 briefing. "And I'd like to make this point: that we urge the Senate to show Ambassador Ford its support by confirming him and allowing his courageous work to continue."

Ford described the latest attack in his most recent Facebook post.

"Protesters threw concrete blocks at the windows and hit the cars with iron bars. One person jumped on the hood of the car, tried to kick in the windshield and then jumped on the roof. Another person held the roof railing and tried to break the car's side window. When the embassy car moved through the crowd, the man fell off the car," he wrote.

"Americans understand that we are seeing the ugly side of the Syrian regime which uses brutal force, repression and intimidation to stay in power."

The Cable

Obama to go multilateral on trade

The White House finally submitted three long-awaited free trade agreements to Congress today, and will now turn its focus to the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), with the goal of finalizing a framework for the 8-country pact by the time the Asia Pacfic Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit convenes in Honolulu in November.

"The series of trade agreements I am submitting to Congress today will make it easier for American companies to sell their products in South Korea, Colombia, and Panama and provide a major boost to our exports," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "These agreements will support tens of thousands of jobs across the country for workers making products stamped with three proud words: Made in America."

The agreements were submitted to Congress this week because the Senate successfully passed a related bill implementing a Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which is designed to help workers impacted by the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). The House Rules Committee was working on that bill on Monday night; the full House is expected to pass it this week.

The FTAs are also expected to gain bipartisan support and pass in short order.

"These agreements will level the playing field for American businesses, including many in South Florida. The billions of dollars in increased sales that will result will enable these companies to create tens of thousands of jobs for hard-pressed Americans," House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said in a statement. "These agreements are also of great importance to our national security interests in Latin America and East Asia."

If and when these three FTAs pass, that will be the end of bilateral trade agreements for a while. A senior administration official told reporters on a conference call that the administration will then turn its focus to the TPP, a regional trade agreement currently being negotiated with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

"This president has a bias toward multilateralism," the senior administration official said. "The TPP would give us a critical foothold in the most dynamic market.... We will be working to try to get the bone structure of that substantially in place prior to President Obama hosting the APEC leaders in Honolulu."

"This is not the end of the Obama administration's trade policy," the official said, adding that the administration was open to other trade agreements but was not working on any other bilateral pacts as of now.

The senior administration official said that the three FTAs will result in more than $13 billion in exports each year and the creation of tens of thousands of jobs. Obama will host South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Washington and throw a state dinner in his honor later this month.

A fact sheet on the U.S.-Korea trade agreement is available here. A fact sheet on the U.S.-Panama trade agreement is available here. A fact sheet on the U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement is available here.