Great article on American diplomatic efforts in Syria today in the Washington Post from reporter Mary Beth Sheridan:
U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford, known as a quiet, under-the-radar-screen diplomat, has changed the dynamic of U.S. relations with Syria by traveling to a tank-ringed city at the center of the protests that have swept the country.
Acquaintances say Ford is hardly the sort to seek the limelight. But his trip to Hama — where he was greeted by cheering demonstrators waving olive branches — was the most significant gesture that the United States has made to support the Syrian protesters.
Read the rest of the article and you’ll see that Ford’s understated approach is going a long way towards affecting the situation on the ground in Syria.
While it’s tempting to think of the Arab Spring in black-and-white terms—either stay out or send in the F-18s—Ford’s efforts are a great example of diplomacy in action. As I’ve repeatedly argued (on this blog, in the Washington Post, and the Kalamazoo Gazette), we get a great return on the money we spend on international affairs.
Think of it this way: the U.S. embassy in Syria has an annual budget in the area of $11 to $12 million. Compare that to the cost of ongoing NATO operations in Libya (even in the early days). It’s not even close.
Polls often show that a majority of Americans support cuts in these budgets. In tough fiscal times, this might seem reasonable. The thing is—as Ford’s work is showing—effective diplomacy is much more cost-effective than military nation-building. If you want to save American public funds in the long run, investing in international affairs is smart fiscal policy.