Kofi Annan Syria Plan Lets Assad Set the Terms

The UN-Arab League envoy led by Kofi Annan went to Damascus with the goal of securing peace and stability for the Syrian people, and with the Syrian government accepting a peace plan last week progress seems to have finally been made. But while the six-point plan calls for the establishment of political processes and other lofty expectations, in reality it only serves to extend yet another lifeline to a murderous regime that is stoic in its decisions to quash any signs of rebellion.

Of most concern is that the plan calls for political negotiations over the country’s future to take place within the regime, essentially restoring President Bashir al-Assad’s status from a pariah whose removal was considered tacit to any negotiations, to a legitimate part of the solution. Reading the Annan plan, one cannot help but feel as though everyone is being let off the hook. On point one of the plan, Annan writes that the Syrian government will:

“(1) commit to work with the Envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people, and, to this end, commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the Envoy.”

With this language, the Envoy is not only granting Assad control over what political concessions he will eventually make, but also more importantly places the future of the Syrian people directly back in the hands of its oppressive government.

This language also leaves China and Russia diplomatically unscathed for their continued support of a repressive, autocratic regime, as it grants Assad’s government some legitimacy in the negotiating process. With the pressure off, the two countries will see even less reason to concede to Western calls for intervention.

Further emboldening the regime is point two, where Annan writes that the Syrian government will:

“(2) commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations-supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilize the country.” 

Here the point of contention is the plan’s assertion that all parties lay down arms, including the opposition forces. Such cease-fires are effective when both parties find themselves in a stalemate, but in the Syrian conflict the opposition is greatly outnumbered and outmatched. By declaring that the Syrian government is not alone in its refusal to end the violence, the plan is building yet another buffer for Assad to exploit.

Under these terms, Assad’s government can justify its attacks under the pretenses of defense, or can demonize the opposition as unwilling restore peace. What is clear is that the Syrian opposition is no longer willing to accept a leader that has killed over 10,000 of their fellow citizens and so any plan that expects them to do so is doomed to failure.

There is no reason to assume that Assad will concede any political gains to protestors were this crisis to be resolved under the guidelines of Annan’s plan. Assad has reneged on promises for peace in the past and, like his father, is prepared to kill thousands of people to ensure his government retains power.

Any solution to the Syrian crisis that begins with Assad in power only serves to embolden and strengthen the regime’s resolve to suppress the uprising. While an early Arab League-backed proposal called for the Syrian president to step down, Annan’s plan only serves to highlight the international community’s impotence in the face of Assad’s brutal crackdown, and acts only to prolong an increasingly dire humanitarian conflict.