It’s not that Syria has gotten any worse than it was a couple months ago. It’s hardly because diplomacy has failed, to quote another political cliché. It’s more attributable to the fact that Syria has been in all-out civil war going back well into 2011. This has never been a conflict stoppable by political agreements. Kofi Annan’s position is a façade and the UN’s motivations are not as lofty as to actually stop an ethnic civil war in Syria. The United Nations answered a call for international mediation from an Arab League desperate to play down the fighting in Syria and convince Bashar al-Assad not to unleash the full force of his military on the rebels and civilian population.
Firstly, Assad’s Syria is still minority-ruled. Whatever assessments from 2011 that said his Alawite brethren alongside other minorities, would fight to avoid being ruled by Sunnis are just as accurate a year later as they were then. Secondly, it should demonstrate how much of a long shot this rebellion is when it makes headlines that the armed opposition is not coordinating with the Syrian National Council, the ‘government in exile’ with no way of extending its reach into its own claimed country. But given that, there isn’t much of a substantial opposition force that can stand in to negotiate with the more powerful Assad government.
Annan has been toting a peace plan for months, even though the agreed ceasefire dates or “legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people” haven’t been implemented. Only in the last few days Kofi Annan’s gotten “impatient and frustrated” by Damascus’ foot-dragging. I doubt Kofi Annan has ever had much faith in what he’s been doing in Syria. It takes a master of naïveté to think this level of blood lust was going to be abated by negotiations between this all-powerful military managed by an embattled minority and the disorganized, broken opposition with no clear strategy.
But truthfully Annan has only himself to blame for putting himself in an unwinnable position. The 6-point Peace Plan he’s promoting is actually incredibly ambiguous. The plan expects Syria to pull back and then address violence supposedly perpetuated by other, unnamed parties. For example, the plan demands “… the Syrian government should immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres. As these actions are being taken on the ground, the Syrian government should work with the Envoy to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism.” Not to do Syrian leaders’ PR work for them, but I don’t see how even Kofi Annan could have ever expected this to make any sense or be relevant to government. If the army were to pull back, which according to Annan’s plan wouldn’t have to include the same action by the rebels, there would be no way of reigning in these other, unnamed groups that apparently exist and would be harming Syrian civilians – something a government in any country would have an excuse to intervene against. Further, assuming the unnamed parties are the Free Syrian Army, the United Nations’ idea of a “supervision mechanism” is only to deploy 200-250 international monitors to make sure a ceasefire holds. This is incredulous. It’s just as absurd as the UN’s 300-man monitoring mission in Darfur several years ago.
Forgetting the ambiguity of Annan’s plan, his words prove he is either completely incompetent on the matter at hand or hopelessly out of touch with the headlines: “The specter of an all-out war, with an alarming sectarian dimension, grows by the day.” This isn’t a possibility, it is a reality.
Civil war on the ethnic level is well in gear. The Syrian opposition has not recruited a richly diverse array of religious groups to fight a tyrannical power, whatever it might claim. It is mainly a battle between Sunnis and an alliance of frantic minorities in the halls of power. The massacre last week wasn’t a rare event, given it was accompanied by another slaughter this weekend. This is a civil war that Kofi Annan and the United Nations had no chance of ending, let along preventing. Not calling it a “civil war” is strategically stalls military action, since the UN eagerly avoids votes authorizing the use of armed intervention. The US and Europe, all the same, want to avoid risking their standing again like they did in Libya last year.
Kofi Annan is not in a position to do anything and he likely never was. It is remarkable he took a job that someone as diplomatically seasoned as himself should have understood was not going to make an impact, but merely delay a vote at the UN Security Council about doing something practical to stop massacres. Perhaps foreign leaders were hoping Annan could buy time for the Free Syrian Army and Syrian National Council to get themselves together and prepare to run the country after foreign intervention. If that were the case it is far from a possible outcome. Whether or not there should be foreign boots stepping into Syria or more money and guns sent to a very murky and disheveled opposition, it should be clear to everyone diplomacy is not one of the cards on the table.