Kofi Annan did his best. You can’t fault the man for trying to make a breakthrough in one of the world’s most dangerous foreign policy stalemates. But the ceasefire he brokered in Syria only brought about a short dip in violence. And his UN monitors have been holed up in their hotel for weeks, unable to do their jobs.
Annan’s decision to resign today as special envoy on the Syria crisis is perhaps his most courageous act.
Observers of Syria have known for weeks, if not months, that Annan’s plan was not working, but no one wanted to announce it dead because they didn’t have a Plan B.
“Now you have to find a new Plan A,” Nadim Houry, of Human Rights Watch, told me in a phone call from Beruit. “You can’t just keep procrastinating.”
Was the plan doomed from the start?
“Since both sides are determined to win the battle by resorting to the military option, and since none of them seems to care about what people really want, I think it is important for the world to know that most of us want peace.”Damascus resident, on violence in Syria
Houry, Human Rights Watch’s Deputy Director for the Middle East, told me that the plan had some initial success. Violence declined and some political prisoners were released.
But there were big problems from the very beginning.
“The whole plan was premised on the Syrian government giving up on the military solution, but they never did,” Houry said. “For the Annan Plan to have succeeded, you would have had to have real international support from all sides. While Russia and China said ‘we support [Annan],’ they never really exerted real pressure on the Syrian government. As momentum was lost, the opposition gave up on the plan.”
Even though Annan has bowed out, the world cannot just sit and wait for Syria to get dragged down into the abyss of a brutal sectarian war.
For some of Syria’s neighbors, the new Plan A rests on Manaf Tlass, a recently-defected general who is seen as one person who might be acceptable as a transitional leader to both the Assad regime and the rebels.
Tlass is a cigar-smoking, party-loving golden boy deeply connected to the Assad regime. His father once served as Syria’s Minister of Defense. But he is also from the Sunni majority, and has reportedly advocated reform – or at least modernization – in Syria. In recent days, Tlass has been making the rounds in Turkey and has issued a flurry of statements about the need to unite the opposition to Assad. His decision to flee, he claims, came after his own failure to convince Assad to stop the bloody crackdown.
It is still unclear whether rebels who have been fighting for months would accept Tlass, or whether the core of Assad’s regime will ever give up power. Some in the international community are still skeptical of Tlass who is, Houry told me, “no Nelson Mandela.”
But he does represent what desperate people desire most: a glimmer of hope that Syria can still avoid descending into long-term sectarian war.
This morning, I received an e-mail from a friend in Damascus who had been displaced from her home from violence, but was recently able to return. I had asked her what she wanted the international community to do to help her people.
She wrote: “Since both sides are determined to win the battle by resorting to the military option, and since none of them seems to care about what people really want, I think it is important for the world to know that most of us want peace. The militarization of the revolution has only made the regime more violent ... This makes ordinary people who are only paying the price for something which they did not seek desperate for a political solution that can save the country a bloody sectarian war-- which has already started to shape up in most areas across the country.”
“Manaf Tlass may not be the ideal person to lead the transitional period, given his history and affiliation with the regime, but I think he is one of the few names that can please people from the two poles. On one hand, he is not the Islamist boogeyman that will scare off the regime supporters, and on the other, he is Sunni and has already defected from the current regime. I personally believe that his defection is a game that was orchestrated by the regime itself, but even if the case is so, I would be more than happy to see an end to this stalemate. We’re about to witness a long-term street/sectarian war where self-administered justice is commonplace and where everyone is a target should not be promoted by any means.”