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Volume XI, No. 2,799 • April 10, 2012

Syria | More About: Bashar Assad, US Foreign Policy, Kofi Annan

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 was supposed to mark the beginning of Syria’s implementation of a UN-Arab League brokered peace plan, aimed at halting President Bashar Assad’s yearlong crackdown on anti-regime protests which is estimated to have killed more than 9000 people. Instead, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem (in Moscow) introduced new preconditions to the deal devised by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, as government forces continued to shell civilian neighborhoods throughout the country.


Syria is now demanding that a cessation of violence occur simultaneously with the deployment of an international monitoring mission, whose members it approves, to the country (not unlike the failed Arab League monitoring mission sent to Syria in November), and that both Annan and opposition groups provide written guarantees to abide by a ceasefire should government forces be withdrawn from cities. The Free Syrian Army has rejected the latter stipulation, leaving no end to the conflict in sight.


Yet Syria’s non-compliance was predictable, if not inevitable. Over the past year, the Assad regime has on numerous occasions promised to bring to an end its military campaign against civilians as well as to implement reforms. In other words, Assad has repeatedly defied and manipulated a fractured, floundering “international community,” using diplomacy as a means to buy time in order to crush dissent while shoring up his domestic political support base.


Over the weekend, Riad al-Asaad, the leader of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) precicted that “the regime will not implement [Annan’s] plan. This plan will fail.” The consequences are dire: on Monday alone, more than 160 people were killed in Syria by government forces, one of the deadliest days since the uprising began.


Jonathan Spyer

Jerusalem Post, April 5, 2012

The supposed acceptance by the regime of Bashar Assad of UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point plan represents the latest phase of the Syrian dictator’s strategy to buy time in order to crush the uprising against his rule. According to the plan, the regime is obliged to withdraw troops and armor from Syrian urban centers by April 10th.… [Instead], the regime is now ramping up its attacks on centers of the uprising.…

The pattern is familiar. In November, the regime proclaimed acceptance of an Arab League plan. The blood-letting, however, continued apace.

A team of hapless Arab League spectators, led by a suspected Sudanese war criminal, General Mustafa al-Dabi, were dispatched to the country. These men spent a few weeks watching Assad’s forces butcher Syrian civilians before being quietly withdrawn. The regime has also twice before announced its acceptance of proposals by Annan—to no noticeable effect.

The current plan envisages the commencement of an “inclusive, Syrian-led political process” that will follow a “cease-fire including the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from inside and around populated areas.” These are the key elements of the Annan proposal, which also calls for the release of “arbitrarily detained persons,” free movement across Syria for journalists, provision of humanitarian aid via a UN mechanism and respect for “freedom of association” and the right to peacefully demonstrate.

The most immediately notable aspect of these proposals is their somewhat otherworldly quality. They envisage no timetable for a transition of power and do not even call for the dictator to step down. Rather, Assad is supposed to begin an open-ended process of dialogue with the opposition.… At the same time, the slaughter…will continue.…

All of this is quite obvious, and is disputed by hardly anyone among serious observers of events in Syria. It is therefore difficult not to conclude that there is simply no real interest on the part of the West to help bring about the end of the Assad dictatorship.

Assad has benefited throughout from a de facto international coalition that supports him. Iran and Hezbollah provide the assistance on the ground. Russia and China are responsible for the diplomatic cover. Either opposing international efforts will be made to help the Syrian rebels transform themselves into a real, physical threat to the dictatorship, or the dictatorship is likely to survive.…

Karl Marx, in the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, famously asserted that “great world-historic facts and personages appear twice. The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Marx, however, did not foresee the current international response to the situation in Syria. This manages, uniquely, to combine the essential qualities of tragedy and farce into a single picture.


Washington Post, April 9, 2012

Twenty-[one] days have passed since the U.N. Security Council endorsed the Syria peace plan of former secretary-general Kofi Annan. It’s been eight days since Mr. Annan said the regime of Bashar Assad had agreed on a deadline of April 10—Tuesday—to withdraw heavy weapons from cities, and five since the Security Council ratified that date. So the entirely predictable outcome of the initiative ought now to be recognized: Mr. Annan and his backers have merely provided cover for Mr. Assad to go on slaughtering his own people.…

In a statement, Mr. Annan proclaimed himself “shocked” to discover that mass murder was still going on inside Mr. Assad’s establishment. But the Obama administration, whose U.N. ambassador called the Annan plan “the best way to end the violence,” had no excuse for such naïveté. It was clear from the outset that Mr. Assad would never implement the U.N. terms…because to do so would cause the collapse of his regime. Mr. Annan is merely the latest of a series of envoys made to look foolish by the Syrian dictator, including not a few Americans.

The question now facing the administration and the Security Council is also familiar: how to respond to Mr. Assad’s double-cross. The easiest, and sadly, probably most likely answer is to give Mr. Annan more time—while the killing continues. The Obama administration reportedly hopes that Russia, one of Mr. Assad’s biggest backers, will pressure him into making a deal with the opposition under Mr. Annan’s auspices. But Russia seeks to preserve the Syrian regime; the idea that it would support a genuine transition to democracy, or that it could induce Mr. Assad to go along with one, is far-fetched.

The inescapable reality is that Mr. Assad will go on killing unless and until he is faced with a more formidable military opposition. That is why the shortest way to the end of the Syrian crisis is the one Mr. Obama is resisting: military support for the opposition and, if necessary, intervention by NATO. The administration has been inching in the right direction by providing non-lethal aid to the Free Syrian Army while tacitly consenting to the provision of arms by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. But reports from the ground say the opposition is not receiving anything close to the support it would need to change the military balance.…

A civil war is taking place in Syria. Mr. Obama may believe that by fleeing from leadership through figments such as the Annan plan, he is avoiding “militarization.” In fact, he is ensuring that thousands more people will die.

Jonathan Schanzer & Claudia Rosett

New Republic, April 5, 2012

It should have raised red flags when both Syria and Russia approved of Kofi Annan’s February 23 appointment as the United Nations-Arab League Joint Special Envoy (JSE) to Syria. But after bickering world powers repeatedly failed to agree on an emissary to broker an end to the killing spree…the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, was content to laud Annan as “an outstanding choice.”

Certainly the Ghana-born Annan comes loaded with credentials: former U.N. secretary general, winner of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, and recipient of a host of other awards, positions, and honorary degrees. But a closer look at Annan’s record reveals that he has often exacerbated crises, rather than solving them. We can now add Syria to this list.

The string of failures begins in 1994, when Annan, then head of peacekeeping, dismissed the warnings of General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the U.N.’s peacekeeping forces in Rwanda, about arms caches that would soon be used for mass murder. In July 1995, with Annan still head of peacekeeping, came another mass murder, this time in Srebrenica. Serbs slaughtered more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims while peacekeepers stood by.

During his tenure as U.N. chief, from 1997-2006, his responsibilities included overseeing the Oil-for-Food relief program for Iraq. The program, run by the U.N. from 1996 until Saddam Hussein’s overthrow in 2003, was supposed to ease the pain imposed on Iraq’s people by sanctions targeting Saddam’s regime. Instead, Oil-for-Food evolved into one of the most corrupt failures in the history of humanitarian relief, while Annan urged its expansion and praised its performance.

Oil-for-Food expanded into a global web of graft. Saddam skimmed and smuggled billions out of oil production meant for humanitarian relief, using the money to pay the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, bribe for influence on the Security Council, buy luxury cars, and procure weapons. Syria, incidentally, was one of Saddam’s major conduits for smuggling oil out of Iraq, and smuggling weapons in. Chairing a 2005 congressional subcommittee hearing on this traffic, Representative Dana Rohrabacher estimated that Syria banked some $3 billion in Saddam’s illicit funds.

Evidence discovered in Baghdad after Saddam’s overthrow led to multiple probes of Oil-for-Food. In 2005, Annan’s handpicked director, Benon Sevan, was accused by the U.N.’s own inquiry of having pocketed money from the program.… While Annan himself was not accused of wrongdoing, a U.N. probe led by former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker diplomatically assessed that his performance “fell short of the standards that the United Nations Organization should strive to maintain.…”

In the case of Syria, Annan met with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus [on March 10 and 11] and reportedly urged him “to heed the old African proverb: ‘You cannot turn the wind, so turn the sail.’ The realistic response is to embrace change and reform.” By March 16, Annan had laid out a six-point plan meant to bring an overdue end to the bloodshed.

Unfortunately, Annan’s plan creates more problems than it solves. It does not call for Bashar Assad to step down, though this is a core demand of the Arab League, the United States, and other interested parties. Annan calls for a “Syrian-led” dialogue between Assad and the opposition. So favorable was this plan to the Syrian regime that Assad (according to Annan) said yes, while leaders of Syria’s opposition rejected it as naive. Meanwhile, despite promises of an immediate ceasefire to be followed by a full withdrawal from urban areas, Assad’s military continues to pound civilian areas.…


Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2012

The last time Kofi Annan embarked on a diplomatic mission to Damascus, after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, the then-U.N. Secretary General extracted a promise from Bashar Assad not to allow weapons to cross the border with Lebanon. It was a promise Mr. Assad instantly flouted, allowing Hezbollah to double its prewar arsenal by most estimates. U.S. figures such as Nancy Pelosi were soon coming to Damascus to pay the young dictator court.

Now Mr. Annan is again serving as envoy to Damascus, this time to negotiate a U.N. peace plan that Mr. Assad doesn’t deserve and few think he has the slightest intention of honouring.…

So why is the Obama Administration playing along with the Annan charade? That’s one of the many mysteries of the Administration’s policy toward Syria. Unlike with Egypt, where Mr. Obama was quick to call for Hosni Mubarak’s departure despite his 30-year alliance with the U.S., it took months for the President to call for Mr. Assad to go—and that’s despite the Assad family’s 40-year track record of hostility to the U.S. and its support for terrorism.

The Administration eventually came around to calling for Mr. Assad’s ouster, and Robert Ford, the U.S. Ambassador in Damascus, paid a courageous visit to the embattled city of Hama. Administration officials also took to speaking of Mr. Assad’s downfall as a foregone conclusion—and of what a useful setback that would be for Iran and its clients in the region.

And then—nothing. The Administration pressed for a toothless Security Council resolution condemning Mr. Assad, which Russia and China vetoed. The Pentagon went out of its way to make known its objections to a no-fly zone or any other military action against Damascus. Other senior U.S. officials also laid out the case for inaction: The Syrian opposition was disjointed; U.S. military aid could fall into the wrong hands; the U.N. hadn’t authorized an operation; the Arab League should take the lead, and so on.…

[In the interim], Mr. Assad has been brutally rolling up his opponents city-by-city, and now it looks like he may be on the cusp of winning. Some 9,000 Syrian civilians have been killed, and another 200,000 are estimated to be in prison. Russia continues to supply the regime with arms, Venezuela supplies it with oil, and Iran provides help in the dirty-works department. Because Mr. Assad leads a sectarian Allawite regime that has everything to fear from a Sunni-dominated government, it has the motive and will to keep fighting.

This ought to prompt some thinking by the Obama Administration about what it would mean if Mr. Assad survives. This is a humanitarian and strategic concern. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said repeatedly that “Assad must go.” Does the U.S. mean it, or is it another hollow line, like calling an Iranian nuclear bomb “unacceptable”?

Iran’s mullahs, who are about to enter their own nuclear negotiations with the U.S., will be interested in knowing that answer. So will Hezbollah, which has depended on Syrian support (both direct and as a conduit to Iran) for three decades. They know Mr. Assad’s survival will have a material bearing on their own prospects.

Then there are America’s regional allies—from Saudi Arabia to Turkey to Israel to whatever remains of a democratic movement in Lebanon. Turkey has taken a risk in urging that Assad must go and by sheltering Syrian refugees who are coming over the border in growing numbers. The Saudis and smaller Gulf states have come out for arming the Syrian opposition and are willing to finance the effort. Far from feeling pressured by the U.S., they want America to lead.

These countries are already getting the sense that the Obama Administration wants out of its Mideast entanglements, period.… American inaction on Syria will serve as an invitation for these countries to pursue their own interests, never mind America’s wishes. That’s an especially odd lesson for the U.S. to impart to a country like Israel, given the effort the Administration is otherwise making to persuade Israelis not to attack Iran.…

On Topic

Why Did Anyone Believe Bashar Al-Assad’s Promises Of A Ceasefire To Begin With? New Republic , April 10, 2012
Radwan Ziadeh
Why Did Anyone Believe Bashar Al-Assad’s Promises Of A Ceasefire To Begin With?
Give Syria's Opposition The Means To Win Daily Star, April 7, 2012
Rami G. Khouri
Give Syria's Opposition The Means To Win
Syria Fight Spills Over Borders Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2012
Joe Parkinson & Maria Abi-Habib
Syria Fight Spills Over Borders
Will Assad Return To Killing Lebanese Leaders? Council on Foreign Relations , April 4, 2012
Elliott Abrams
Will Assad Return To Killing Lebanese Leaders?


Prof. Frederick Krantz, Director Prof. Frederick Krantz, Director (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)

Prof. Harold Waller Prof. Harold Waller (McGill University)

Prof. Ira Robinson, Associate Chairman Prof. Ira Robinson, Associate Chairman (Department of Religion, Concordia University)

Baruch Cohen, Research Chairman Baruch Cohen, Research Chairman (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)

Rob Coles (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research) Rob Coles (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)

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