On Monday, U.N. envoy Kofi Annan told the world he and President Bashar al-Assad had “agreed” on an approach to end the bloodshed in Syria. According to Annan, the two men concurred on the “need to end the violence” and discussed possible approaches for doing so. But what Annan was really telling the world was that he, and the United Nations, no longer has any credibility when it comes to Syria.
Annan is undoubtedly well intentioned, and believes his six-point plan can end the violence in Syria. But his efforts since becoming the U.N.’s special envoy in February have failed miserably. Annan conceded as much this past weekend in an interview with Le Monde.
For the last five months, Annan has been involved in an endless series of negotiations with the Syrian government that have all followed a similar pattern: The two parties hold talks, Annan says he’s convinced Assad to end the bloodshed, Annan leaves, and Assad continues to ruthlessly slaughter his own people.
Annan’s first triumph was a cease-fire agreement that was supposed to go into effect on April 10. According to Annan, the Syrian military was going to stop using heavy weapons, withdraw from population centers, and cease all hostilities.
Reports in The New York Times, however, indicated that Assad’s government began violating the agreement before it even went into effect, by shelling cities such as Homs, conducting military raids in civilian neighborhoods, and murdering hundreds of Syrian civilians. The U.N. itself later acknowledged that the Syria government had blatantly violated the April 10 “truce.”
Annan and the U.N.’s next achievement was the deployment of a “supervision mission” to Syria in the latter part of April. But according to Al Jazeera, the Syrian government continued to kill hundreds of people right under the noses of the U.N. monitors. The “mission” was later suspended indefinitely because the violence in Syria grew so severe that the U.N. monitors became fearful for their lives and refused to continue their patrols.
Annan should have expressed outrage, recognized Assad could not be trusted or negotiated with, and called for the world to take decisive action against the Syrian despot. Instead, Annan traipsed around to Iran and Syria, continuing the meaningless negotiations. At the end of May, Annan reportedly told Assad “bold steps” were needed to end the violence. Given that Assad could end the violence with the snap of his fingers, it’s unclear what “bold steps” Mr. Annan had in mind.
In fact, the only bold actions taken by Mr. Assad since that time have been the daring raids in which his soldiers summarily executed Syrian children; the continued shelling of major cities such as Homs and Daara; and the unprovoked downing of a Turkish military jet.
Over the past few months, it has become painfully clear that Assad cannot be, and does not want to be, negotiated with. His rejection of asylum offers and his declaration that Syria is “at war” confirm that the only outcome Assad considers acceptable is one in which he remains in power. And, at this point, such an outcome can only be achieved through the continued use of violence and terror against his people.
Annan’s decision to return to Syria this week, and his incredulous claim that he and Assad have agreed on an “approach” to end the violence, is worse than naiveté. Mr. Annan is enabling Mr. Assad and standing idly by as the Syrian despot engages in the mass murder of his own people.
Annan’s actions have shown Mr. Assad that there will be no consequences for his ruthless bloodletting. Annan’s decision to continue to “negotiate” with Assad has also given the Syrian leader credibility, and undermined the Syrian opposition. Annan’s ridiculous “agreements” with Assad give countries such as China and Russia a continued excuse to resist efforts to take decisive action. And ultimately, Mr. Annan’s diplomatic charade has eviscerated the distinction between right and wrong.
Those who support the United Nations should immediately call from Mr. Annan’s removal as special envoy for Syria. Annan is significantly damaging the reputation of the United Nations through his irresponsible handling of the situation. And, what’s worse, he may even be responsible for prolonging the crisis.
Well intentioned as he may be, Mr. Annan stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that sometimes a situation can be boiled down to right and wrong. And when it comes to Syria, Kofi Annan is dead wrong.
David Meyers served in the White House from 2006 to 2009, and later in the United States Senate. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.