I never had much hope for UN envoy Kofi Annan's original peace plan. It required too much goodwill from President Assad, and too much of a united front from the Syrian opposition. In the end, however, Assad showed no goodwill, and the opposition showed it would not give way before the regime's pressure. Despite Annan's proclamation of a cease-fire, the killing did not stop, and the conflict has since exploded.
We called Annan naive. Others called him desperate. A few went farther and accused him of directly supporting the Assad regime.
On Monday, Annan offered a new intervention for consideration, with a direct conversation with Assad and then a press conference, in Iran.
According to a UN's transcript of the meeting with Assad and other Syrian officials, Annan said that a good plan would be to secure a ceasefire in a single location and then see if that plan could be extended to other cities. He also made critical remarks against the organisation of the Syrian opposition:
Once again, Assad proved fully amenable before asking his guests: "We are a state, government and official authority, which means when we give you our word on a ceasefire we become accountable to you. But who will you be negotiating with on the other side?"
At this point, Annan began answering together with Gen Mood [head of the UN observer mission, who was also present].
Annan and Mood said, "We at least got to know the major groups. We got to know their chiefs. True, they don't have a unified command or a clear command structure. Their armed chaos is massive. But we got to know their key figures. That's why we believe we can work and proceed with them step by step."
This may be naive. It assumes that the opposition, which is decentralised, would be willing to see a ceasefire in a single area as a sign of goodwill for the entire nation. It assumes that Assad would comply with a ceasefire in any location. It assumes that the insurgents would not see this as an excuse for the Assad military, which is losing battle after battle, to regroup and regain the upper hand.
But this is not just naive. It may be suspicious. It blames both the opposition and the insurgency for having a weak centralised leader, and it postulates that such a leader is necessary for legitimacy. It discounts large amounts of evidence that Assad has no interest in tolerating a challenge to his rule, either from peaceful protesters or from an armed force. Kofi Annan's line flirts here with Bashar al Assad's line, and with the narrative presented by regime media.
This reads like the plan of an elder statesman who is unwilling to accept failure, and is perhaps too optimistic that peace is possible --- a peace at any cost, at least for one side in the conflict. This, however, does not shock.
What is shocking are Annan's further statementsin Tehran:
I think you are right in saying that the UN has pushed very hard for an end to the violence. We want all sides to stop the violence and in fact I think I said not long ago that when we talk of the end to the violence we are talking to each person with a gun – that they should not go around killing civilians and their own people.
On the question of armaments and militarisation, the Geneva meeting made it quite clear that we are opposed to any further militarisation of the conflict, which in effect means we should seek a peaceful solution and not continue to arm people in the conflict. On the question of disarmament, at the end of a conflict of this nature disarmament also becomes part of the post-conflict activities. And I'm sure this will be the case here and very serious plans will have to be made to collect arms that are in the wrong hands and ensure that the government – or the government that emerges or the government of the day – will have control of the use of firearms and weapons. In other words, one authority, one gun.
In other words, the Free Syrian Army has no right to exist, and the only way to properly achieve peace in Syria is to allow Assad, at least temporarily, to be the "one gun".
This is naïveté to the maximum. The FSA will not consider these terms for a second, let alone accept them, especially as they appear to be marching towards military victories. Thus, Annan's plan will fail and he will be able to place all of the blame on the opposition. That will then pose questions over the UN envoy's notion of existence: what gave any band of "freedom fighters", rebels, or insurgents the right to exist and fight for their demands? What gave the Libyan insurgents the right to exist, and even the right to be internationally recognised and supported by NATO, while the Syrian insurgents are denied any of this, even on the most basic level, in Annan's view?
But there is more than naïveté here. Annan has also granted Assad a carte blanche license to continue the killing, in the name of hunting down an illegal insurgency. The Free Syrian Army, according to this plan, should lay down its weapons and trust that the Assad regime is ready to negotiate cease fires and a political transition. Statements like these read as if the Free Syrian Army started this fire, the Free Syrian Army fired on protesting civilians in the streets of Daraa and Hama and Damascus, and the Assad regime can be trusted with being an unchallenged military force.
And that's just a straight up pro-Assad agenda.