The mediation mission of Kofi Annan has turned into a hydra-headed monster that the United States, France and the United Kingdom do not seem to have the courage to slay as it begins to rise up again, out of the the smoldering ashes of Kofi Annan’s total defeat, his total failure, as U.N.-Arab Joint Special Envoy.
The mediation mission of Kofi Annan directly served the interests of the Russians and the Bashar al-Assad regime itself, by endlessly proposing empty rhetorical solutions to the Syrian conflict, “castles in the sky” which were beautiful indeed and elicited universal approval, but which were not accompanied by any practical steps or path for their achievement in reality. It was, as we observed, as if the nations of the world became ectstatic over the fact that they had achieved complete unity, on the proposition that all points on a circle are equidistant from the center.
But “Kofi Annan’s triumph”, the mediation mission and its oversized staff and budget, has acquired life and the kind of blind bureaucratic momentum that keeps new offices and missions moving in the U.N. without the intervention of human thought. It represents the creation of what amounts to a second secretary general’s office in Geneva charged with mediating in Syria, to be sure, but also keeping high-ranking diplomats employed, a total of some seventeen staff, at U.N. salary rates for an Undersecretary ($189,000 tax-free), two Assistant Secretaries ($172,000 each, tax-free) and other U.N. diplomats of high rank to assist these principal figures.
A successor to Kofi Annan, and this mighty staff based on Geneva, would help ensure that the U.N. Special Envoy and his operation will remain at the center of international decision-making on Syria, sucking up the world’s media attention as it did when Annan was leading the operation, to the exclusion even of coverage of events on the ground.
It represents Russia’s attempt to get back in the game, after blocking all efforts at effective Security Council action. Without the Joint Special Envoy and his operation, and UNSMIS, the Russians become largely irrelevant as the locus of decision making shifts away from the Security Council–for at least so long as al-Assad’s butchery continues.
We have seen how the Joint Special Envoy’s enterprise was used to do the Russians’ bidding, and to set loose unaccountable U.N. diplomats on an endless quest to, among other things, maintain their own salaries and positions, even if that involved attempting to drag Iran into the existing mess.
Kofi Annan failed. Absolutely. His mediation mission produced nothing. Absolutely nothing. It dragged out the period of time in which the world’s nations stood by, paralyzed by false promises and false hopes. Thousands, certainly over 10,000, were killed in Syria as a result.
Kofi Annan’s mission achieved one key objective for the Russians: it succeeded in forestalling any forceful military action by outside countries that might have actually brought al-Assad’s atrocities to a halt.
The mission was premised on the assumption that if Bashar al-Assad were to agree to a peace plan, or to anything for that matter, that agreement would have some value, that it would mean something. However, even in February, it was already quite clear from the failed Arab League peace mission in 2011 that this assumption was utterly flawed.
Kofi Annan’s greatest and most shameful failure was that after it had become manifest that al-Assad would not honor the 6-point peace plan to which he had agreed, Annan did not report back to the Security Council on the failure of his mission. Instead, he continued to negotiate, to waste time, to blind the world community with the beauty of his “palaces in the sky”, while al-Assad continued to use his tanks, his artillery, and his army to massacre the civilian population of Syria. Kofi Annan constantly held out the hope of some agreement, as he negotiated with a war criminal who was committing war crimes and crimes against humanity against his people every day.
As if this shame were not enough, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon responded quickly to the Russian entreaties that a successor to Kofi Annan be named as soon as possible. The Russians pushed hard for this, while the Americans did not think clearly and did not strongly oppose this action, which today is reported to be imminent.
All of this is being done without any public discussion or analysis or apparent thought, other than to satisfy the demands of the Russians and the Chinese, whose interest in forestalling effective action by the Security Council–or by anyone else–has been demonstrated beyond the slightest doubt.
Ban Ki-Moon’s appointment of Kofi Annan as Joint Special Envoy was one of the greatest blunders in modern U.N. history. Now, this idea, which is based on the assumption that agreement with al-Assad on anything would have meaning, and the fundamentally flawed concept that it is OK to negotiate with a war criminal while he is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, is on the verge of a second incarnation with the appointment of a new Joint Special Envoy.
We have spoken before of the folly of subsuming the voices of the Arab countries in the person of a Joint U.N.-Arab League Special Envoy. There is absolutely no objective benefit to be derived by dragging the Arab League into this appointment, which only gives the Arab League an excuse for doing nothing. The Arab countries that make up the League of Arab States have a role to play through that organization, as well as outside of it. Their voices should not be stifled again with another appointment of a “Joint Special Envoy”.
Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is turning out to be a disaster in his leadership on the Syrian issue. Not only did he initially appoint Kofi Annan, as the outcome of a secretive process the details of which were never made clear, but he also dismissed General Robert Hood unceremoniously at the end of the first 90 days of his contract as commander of UNSMIS. This he did without a word of thanks that reached the world’s attention. Nor did he explain why Hood was fired (technically, he didn’t offer Hood an extension of his contract, without explanation, which amounted to the same thing).
We speculated earlier about the possibility that Hood was replaced for standing up too energetically for the security of his monitors, and ordering them to stand down because of both security concerns and the impossibility of monitoring a non-existent truce. Hood’s replacement, Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, suddenly appeared on the scene in Damascus on July 30 together with Hervé Ladsous, U.N. Assistant Secretary for Peacekeeping, and promptly ordered patrols by the UNSMIS observers. He was never properly introduced, and details of his background and why he was chosen to replace Hood were never provided in a way that caught the attention of the world’s press.
See “In wake of field visit in Syria, head of UN observers voices concern over Aleppo,” UN News Centre, July 30, 2012.
Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye, Press conference in Damascus, July 30, 2012, Prepared Statement.
See also Executive Summary, “Report of the Independent Panel on the Safety and Security of the UN Personnel in Iraq,” 20 October 2003
The manner in which Ban Ki-Moon replaced General Robert Hood as head of UNSMIS, in view of his distinguished and courageous service, was shameful and scandalous. The way the Secretary General is now proceeding to appoint a successor to Kofi Annan without public discussion, without an open discussion in the Security Council, is equally scandalous.
Why the Obama administration would go along with this move, which is so clearly contrary to its interests and those of all the countries which are willing to act to halt the atrocities in Syria, is just one more of the foreign policy mysteries of Barack Obama.
It seems that the U.S. foreign policy decision-making apparatus is shut down for the summer, and possibly until after the U.S. elections in November. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has become the Peer Gynt of modern diplomacy, traveling the world with her entourage of high state department officials, far from the centers of decision making where policies and actions are in fact decided. President Barack Obama is lost in the campaign, and appears to have little interest in or attention for anything else. Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense, has in Clinton’s absence been pressed into service as a foreign policy spokesman for the administration, but not always with felicitous results. Tom Donilon, the National Security Adviser, is apparently holding down the fort, though even he was recently dispatched to Israel to carry Obama’s messages to Netanyahu. All in all, we are left with “the gang who couln’t shoot straight” as they continue their happy wandering through the unfocused foreign policy terrain of a president who is not minding the store.
Hillary Clinton has seized upon this time to see the many countries of the world, which is probably a much more pleasant place to be than to be in Washington, ignored.
If there remains a single foreign policy leader who is awake and alert, whether in Washington, Paris, or London, he or she should act with the utmost urgency to block any appointment of a successor to Annan, and to stop any continuation of his mission and the U.N. bureaucratic boondoggle of what amounts to a second secretary general’s office in Geneva to support it
The world has tried the Kofi Annan act, and experienced the massive loss of lives and the bitter disappointment and total defeat that it has brought.
We don’t need to go there again.
Anyone who thinks the Russians are acting out of any but the basest motives in seeking to resurrect this diplomatic instrument, which was so helpful to them over the last four months, should review with his colleagues the evidence that has accumulated over the last 17 months in relation to Syria.
The Trenchant Observer
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