Our Unconfirmed Man in Damascus

Yesterday, the State Department continued to urge the international community to impose harsher sanctions on Syria. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Robert Ford was only in Damascus to make the U.S. message heard, stressing that Washington does not have a “partnership” with Syria. She said Washington’s message would be consistent: “what [Bashar al-Assad is] doing is disgusting, is abhorrent, is dangerous and is taking his country in the wrong direction.”

Robert Ford may be the man on the ground, but the Senate hasn’t officially confirmed him as ambassador yet (he was a recess appointment). Senator Joe Lieberman, who previously opposed the appointment, came out in the Wall Street Journal today in favor of confirming Ford as ambassador. (Only one senator, Bob Casey from Pennsylvania, actually showed up to Ford’s confirmation hearing last week.) Lieberman wrote that Ford isn’t there for the regime; rather, he’s “now first and foremost our ambassador to the Syrian people and a bridge to the democratic transition they demand.”

And Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner spoke yesterday with China’s vice premier, Wang Qishan. According to a Treasury statement, the two talked about the “challenges facing the global economy and the state of global financial markets.” In public, Beijing has kept quiet about the recent downgrade of the U.S. credit rating but got in its share of criticism on the general U.S. economic situation.