The 2012 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Acceptance Speech by Robert Ford

Robert S. Ford began serving a recess appointment as the U.S. Ambassador to Syria in January 2011; his appointment was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in October 2011. He is the first American ambassador posted to Damascus since 2005, when the U.S. withdrew its diplomatic presence amid tensions over the Iraq war, human rights complaints, and the February 2005 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Ford's arrival in 2011 signaled a significant effort by the U.S. to reopen diplomatic dialogue with Syria. In Ford, the U.S. had dispatched to Damascus one of the most skillful and accomplished Arabists in the Foreign Service.

In January 2011, a few short weeks after Ford arrived in Syria, a wave of prodemocracy protests swept through the Middle East. Now commonly called the "Arab Spring," these demonstrations eventually brought down oppressive regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. On the ground in Syria, Ford's robust diplomacy centered on a strong show of support for the Syrian opposition movement. At personal risk, he has traveled all over the country, talking with the Syrian people and using social media to encourage dissidents to embrace forms of non-violent protest against government-backed brutality. In this way, as The Jerusalem Post observed, "he has carved out a niche for himself in the region, defying stereotypes about what diplomats can and should do."

Ford's courageous support for the opposition garnered global attention in July 2011, when he visited the city of Hama in advance of planned demonstrations there. Hama had become a focal point of the uprising against the government, and the Syrian Army had begun to ring the city in preparation for a major assault. Ford's physical presence in Hama, without official sanction from the Syrian government, functioned as a visible statement of support for the demonstrators and an unambiguous rebuke of the government-backed violence against them.

Ford's heroic, "muscular" diplomacy, as The Jerusalem Post wrote, represented "a departure from the long-standing practice of US State Department functionaries...toeing the line when it comes to dictators and human rights abuses." The New York Times also praised Ford, saying, "his actions are giving hope to Syrians, and clearly frightening the regime."
The 2012 Profile in Courage Award is presented to Ambassador Robert Ford for the courageous example he has set and the light he has shone on the power of creative and robust diplomacy to serve as a vital tool for advancing human rights.