The Anan peace plan
The UN observer mission in Syria is a resounding failure, not least because of the self-aggrandising brinkmanship of its head, Kofi Anan, writes Ayman El-Amir
In his relentless campaign to stem the rising tide of the revolution, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has won an unsolicited ally: former UN secretary-general Kofi Anan. For the past four months, Al-Assad has been cushioned between Russia's waning strategic presence in the Middle East, represented by the only East Mediterranean naval base in Tartous, and Anan's marathon but futile peace endeavour. For the rebellious Syrian people, Anan's only achievement has been the protection of Al-Assad's massacre of 3,300 more Syrians while he travelled from one capital city to another, drove in sleek limousines for meetings with senior officials, pretending that his stillborn mission was still alive. He is supported by Russia, the only power that wanted to save Al-Assad from the consequences of his acts of genocide.
The big powers that authorised Anan's mission through the UN Security Council are making it politely but unequivocally clear to him that it should now be terminated. Even the Arab League, the other co-sponsor of Anan's mission, is telling him that there should be a clear timeline for his efforts. Anan is reluctant to add yet another episode of failed intervention to his already hapless record. Instead of admitting failure, Anan pleaded for more time. "More time for more killing," commented Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu.
Anan has most recently tried to save his mission by reinventing it. He suggested that the 300 UN observers on the ground in Syria be converted into a peacekeeping mission, regardless of the fact that they are unarmed, that they are no match for the heavily-armed Syrian army that would block them, that a new mandate was needed from UN Security Council and that a new definition for the rules of engagement is needed. Russia would block this move because it is busy preparing its own international conference on Syria that is primarily designed to save its own interests, even if it has to jettison Al-Assad. The proposal was opposed by Nasser Al-Qudwa, a former Palestinian Authority foreign minister and now one of Anan's two deputies, in addition to General Robert Mood, commander of the modest UN observer mission that has frozen its activities due to obstruction, threats and harassment by Syrian forces. General Mood was reluctant to put his small, unarmed force of observers in harm's way. The UN observer mission had been preceded last December and January by an Arab League mission that, like the UN mission, failed to get anywhere and eventually withdrew. But Anan's personal ambition to appear on TV screens as the celebrated peacemaker in one of the most intractable people-against-dictator crises has no regard for the thousands of victims, killed or maimed, the mad shelling of houses and buildings throughout the country, the killings in Assad's torture chambers of suspected rebels and their families, the rape of young women and children by Assad's troops to humiliate and intimidate Syrians, and his resistance to handing over power as a compromise.
It is a mystery whether Anan is trying to humour Assad or whether Assad is playing Anan on and off. It is not clear whether Anan really understands that he is dealing with one of the last dictators of the Soviet era who rules with a gun and a whip and cannot be swayed by argument or reason. For the past 15 months Assad has been telling visitors and mediators, Anan included, that for violence to end the "terrorists" have to lay down their arms -- a recipe for suicide. For Assad to quit is out of the question since he was democratically elected 12 years ago, and will continue to be re-elected, by the one-party regime he inherited from his father, Hafez Al-Assad. For Anan, his mission has to succeed no matter how long it takes or how many victims it costs. To him, these are all statistical numbers in a game of 19th century diplomacy. For the Russians, they believe they cannot afford to lose their last totalitarian partner and their last military base in the Middle East while the US is littering the Gulf region with mammoth military bases to protect them against Iran.
It would seem that Kofi Anan's peace plan is conceived and negotiated out of the context of the profound changes underlying the Arab revolution that has left no ruler in the region unshaken. What is happening in Syria is a full-blown revolution against decades of oppression, not a Baath Party congress. Like other revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the Syrians are proving every day, in every street of every Syrian city or neighbourhood that no sacrifice is too dear to offer for the sake of freedom. Earlier in the revolution, Syrians were facing Bashar Al-Assad's army and artillery with the only weapons they had: their bare chests. When a revolution is in full swing, it is hard to make diplomatic compromises. It did not happen in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya, and will not happen in Syria. Anan's peace plan was launched to stop the bloodshed in Syria; four months later Syrian blood is still flowing, only more profusely.
Kofi Anan realises that he left the UN following a lacklustre career in both peacekeeping and as secretary general, interspersed with a few scandals, particularly the Iraqi Oil-for-Food Programme. The massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, of 800,000 Tutsi in Rwanda and close to four million victims in the civil war in the Congo are grim reminders of his abilities as undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations before he became secretary general in 1997. As he has blamed all these failures on the lack of political will of member states to act, he feels he needs a high-profile crisis situation where media hype would award him a peacemaker's publicity.
In the history of peacekeeping, the UN intervenes only at the request of warring parties who have been battered by conflict and are seeking assistance to resolve their quarrel. There are exceptions where the Security Council authorises the introduction of military force to ward off a more serious situation that could threaten international peace and security or where gross violation of human rights is intolerable. In 1999, when Kofi Anan was still secretary general, he lauded NATO's air campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia over the situation in Kosovo, saying, "The sovereignty of States must no longer be used as a shield for gross violation of human rights." The situation in Syria is an internal conflict between a rabid dictator and the people of a country that want change and are willing to die for it. It is not much different from the situation in Libya that ended up with the execution of Muammar Gaddafi by a rebel. In Syria, Bashar Al-Assad is kept in power by a Russian veto and supply of helicopter gunships to massacre the population. It does not need mediation or peacekeeping but strong support of the revolutionaries. In the case of Libya, the Security Council authorised the use of force to protect civilians; in the case of Syria it only needs to authorise the arming of rebels to defend themselves. There is, of course, the possibility of escalation, but Bashar Al-Assad's destiny has been sealed.
At one point in his mission, Anan advised Al-Assad in a statement that the situation needed "an act of courage," meaning for Al-Assad to step down. It is now time for Anan to embrace the same act of courage by submitting to the Security Council that his mission has failed, and to return to the UN whatever is left of the $7.5 million it had put in the coffers of his mission.
The writer is former corespondent of Al-Ahram in Washington, DC, and former director of the UN Radio and Television in New York.