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Syrian Pilots Shot Down in Libya?

The civil war in Libya has become essentially a tribal conflict, with Qaddafi’s Qadhadfa tribe versus everyone else. For example, Al-Jazeera is reporting that Qadhadfa officers have executed 20 officers from the Firjan tribe who had refused to fire on their fellow Libyans. As Qaddafi has lost the support of the Qadhadfas’ long-time allies, there have been increasingly frequent reports that he is turning to mercenaries to help put down the Libyan people.

Overnight, these reports have taken a new twist: Al Jazeera is reporting that free Libyan forces have downed two Syrian planes in Ras Lanuf, about 400 kilometers west of Benghazi. Unconfirmed reports had earlier suggested that the free Libyans had downed two Sukhoi SU-22s, which is what the Libyans train on in Syria.

If these reports are true, it is time for President Obama to bring home Robert Ford, his recess appointment as ambassador to Syria. Successful engagement requires sincerity of both partners. Obama may be sincere, but it is clear that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is not. We do not need to cut off dialogue — we still have an embassy in Damascus and can pursue the daily requirements of diplomacy, whatever they may be, at a more junior level.

Many senators remain upset that Obama refused to address their concerns on Syria and dispatched Ford as a recess appointment. They gave Obama’s outreach to Syria three months. Rather than improve Assad’s behavior, however, engagement has only worsened it. This is true even if the rumors of Syrian participation are exaggerated.

If Obama refuses to bring Ford home, perhaps it is time for Congress to reassert itself and play hardball with the State Department’s budget.



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