Last month, he traveled to Hama and was surrounded by flowers, olive branches, and people yelling that the Americans have come. His pointed moral support naturally infuriated the Syrian government, which immediately set its thugs upon the U.S. embassy in Damascus. Ford told me that he had to threaten to get U.S. Marine guards to shoot the intruders before the regime would pull them off.
But then, Assad stepped up his crackdown on Hama, sending in tanks, besieging the city, cutting water and electricity, and shooting people apparently at random, bodies simply left in the streets or buried in backyards by terrified residents.
These Syrian TV pictures by the end of the week claimed that the rebellion in this city has been crushed, but residents say that now a humanitarian crisis is underway, with growing shortages of food and medical supplies.
AMANPOUR: And this morning, news that Assad's forces are trampling another Syrian town. The best response the world has come up with so far is a United Nations statement condemning the violence and the U.S. trying to ratchet up sanctions.
America's ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, has been sent back there, having been drawn back here for urgent consultations. I met him at the State Department just before he left.
AMANPOUR: Do they consider you an enemy of the state in Syria?
FORD: They're certainly angry with my trip to Hama. They were very angry about that. I don't particularly care, because we have to show our solidarity with peaceful protesters. I'd do it again tomorrow if I have to. I'm going to keep moving around the country. I can't stop.
AMANPOUR: Do you fear, given that Hama in 1982 was the site of tens of thousands of deaths there by the regime, are you worried that that could happen now and that is happening now?
FORD: Yes. Yeah, I mean, literally, dozens of people have been killed in the last week. I'm personally very nervous about the fate of some of the people I met. I fear that they're either now under arrest or maybe dead.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): The violence continues, despite the U.S. sanctions and the statement by the U.N. this week. So I asked the ambassador, will Assad really feel the pressure from these moves?
(on-screen): How much leverage, though, does the United States have? It doesn't have many industries there. Unlike we Egypt, you don't have military-to-military or security cooperation.
FORD: First of all, there is just the power, the reputation of the United States. When I visited Hama, that was a statement, and it got international attention that the American ambassador would go there. That's leverage.
In addition, because we have targeted specific individuals and worked with partners, especially in Europe, we are seeing some of those individuals and other people who fear being named on sanctions list coming to us and saying, "Maybe I need to rethink what I have been doing."
AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you about that strategy. You're clearly bypassing the Syrian government, in that you're not speaking to state television. You're using social media, Facebook. You and your spokespeople have used very harsh -- one might say undiplomatic language to condemn the violence. What is your strategy?
FORD: I'd like to call it frank talk, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: What is your strategy?