SANGERVILLE — America’s last ambassador to Syria, who left his post five years ago, hailed President Donald Trump’s recent decision to pull U.S. troops out of the country.

Retired U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford, the country’s last ambassador to Syria, where he served from 2011 to 2014. Ford and his wife, Alison Barkley, also a retired diplomat, have moved to Beaver Cove in Piscataquis County to get away from Washington. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

Beaver Cove resident Robert Ford said the situation there was “always going to blow up,” and there is not much Trump or anyone else could have done about it.

There is no way, he said, for the United States to fix the problems that tore Syria apart.

In fact, he said, it is time for the nation to think through its military commitments in the entire Middle East.

“I’m not sure what we get out of it,” said Ford, an Arabist who served as ambassador in Damascus from 2011 to 2014, where he was often embraced by pro-democracy demonstrators as he criticized the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Ford, who is retired, said he warned military leaders years ago that if they armed the Kurds and relied on them to take on the Islamic State, they would wind up pushing Turkey into the conflict.

He said the generals recognized that would likely happen, but figured they needed the Kurds to take down ISIS and could not wait to find another way to deal with the terrorist state anchored in the deserts of eastern Syria.

Ford said he told retired U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis it would not work out in the long run.

Islamic State Group was defeated in Iraq two years ago and in Syria in March but the extremists’ sleeper cells have continued to carry out attacks in both countries. Map created Oct. 17 by the AP

“The bill has now come due,” Ford said. “This was always going to end badly.”

Ford said Turkey has a legitimate concern the Kurds in Iraq have ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, commonly called the PKK, a militant group that has committed acts of terrorism in Turkey and is listed by many countries as a terrorist organization.

U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, who joined the conversation at a party fundraiser, said he has “never been a big believer in intervention.”

Both Golden and Ford said the process used by Trump to make the decision to pull out was poor.

Golden said the military was “caught off guard” by Trump’s tweets declaring the intention to remove a thousand American troops from Kurdish-held territory in northern and eastern Syria. He said he worried the way it was done is “feeding more conflict in the region.”

Golden, who served in combat roles for the U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the U.S. interest should focus narrowly on fighting the terrorists who threaten Americans.

He said military leaders have assured members of Congress they retain the capacity to go after high-value terrorist targets despite the pullout.

Ford said the country needs to weigh the benefits it gets for the tremendous cost of deploying the military. There are real trade-offs, he said.

Golden said he worries the situation today may “bring more violence and attacks” because U.S. troops are no longer there to keep the peace.

“And who caused that?” Ford asked.

He said the PKK and the Kurds allied with it are responsible in large part for Turkey’s desire to intervene along its border with Syria.

Ford, who is married to another retired diplomat, Alison Barkley, moved to Maine to get away from Washington.

“I don’t want to be a bottom feeder,” he said.

In small-town Maine, he said, the concerns of diplomats are far away.

“I can sit out on my deck and listen to the loons,” Ford said.

He teaches at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, in the spring semester and is increasingly involved in Democratic Party politics in Piscataquis County.


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