Robert Ford, Ambassador to Syria from 2011 to 2014, called into Kilmede & Friends to talk about Syria, why the Assad regime is worse than ISIS and how Russia's relationship with Assad complicates matters for America
Ford on the Syrian opposition to Assad "Most of the Syrian opposition are not terrorists. The Islamic State in Syria is a minority, the al Qaeda faction in Syria is a minority, and most of the fighters are not terrorists."
If it wasn't for support from Russia & Iran, would Assad still be in power? "I think had Russia and especially Iran had not provided as much support, Assad would have been compelled to leave office a year or two ago. He was losing badly by the beginning of 2013 and then an Iranian surrogate terrorist group called Hezbollah, from Lebanon, sent in about 6,000 crack fighters that turned the tide and preserved a stalemate."
Ford on finding a political solution to deal with Syria
"What the President says and what Secretary of State Kerry said about finding a political solution to this is exactly the right answer but you have to be tough in terms of getting to a negation and a serious negation, you can't just talk about it. The Assad government, with backing from Russia, has refused to negotiate a new national unity government, so we have to put pressure on the Assad government."
Why haven't we been able to train more opposition fighters against Assad? Did we miss the opportunity to train opposition fighters against Assad?
"I totally disagree with that. Most of the opposition fighters have nothing to do with the Islamic State; they are fighting the Islamic State. They are between a rock, the Assad government, and a hard place, the Islamic State. When people say 'oh its terrorists or Assad' I think that's a gross misinterpretation of what is going on in the country. The vast majority of the opposition wants nothing to do with the Islamic State, they are fighting to restore dignity, I am not talking about democracy but dignity, respect for human rights for the Syrian people who have been bombed and gassed and tortured by this regime."
How come we only found 53 people to train then?
"Because we insisted they only fight the Islamic State and never fight Assad but Assad's government is causing six and a half times more casualties than the Islamic State. So not surprisingly, Syrian fighters who are fighting both (ISIS & Assad) say, well we can't just ignore the Assad government; they're killing a lot more people than the Islamic State. The Obama administration had a very hard condition, only fight the Islamic State, never fight Assad. What a surprise, very few recruits showed up under that condition. Until we deal with the brutality of the Assad regime, we can't fix the problem of the Islamic State"
Are you frustrated the Obama administration was not listening to you, Petraeus or Panetta?
"I don't worry about what happened or didn't happen in 2012. I want to get people to understand the need to help moderates in Iraq and in Syria so we can get to the political solutions that I have been talking about and its especially urgent in Syria given the humanitarian tragedy"