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Annan's Plan for Syria, a Fantasy?

March 8, 2012: A Reuters report describes Kofi Annan as saying that he would urge President Bashar al-Assad and his foes to stop fighting and seek a political solution. Annan says, "The killing has to stop."

March 10: Assad meets with Kofe Annan and tells him no political dialogue can succeed while "armed terrorist groups" operate. Some, including Annan, respond with hope that Assad will change his mind. Kofi Annan seems to me to be pursuing a fantasy. When has a murderous autocrat allowed himself to be sweet-talked out of power?

March 16: Kofi Annan announces that he had had a "disappointing response" from Assad. The killing continues.

March 27: Hopes are buoyed when Annan announces that Syria accepts his peace plan.

March 30: The killing continues, and a frustrated Annan demands that the cease fire begin "Now."

March 31: We are reading Assad's excuse, his linking a troop pullback from hostile neighborhoods to his need for "security."

April 1: Another demand of immediacy is issued. At a "Friends of Syria" conference in Istanbul, Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan tells foreign ministers and others from seventy countries that the "legitimate demands of the Syrian people must be met, right here, right now."

April 2: With Assad's continued assaults, some realistic commentary becomes more prominent. Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya Television says on the PBS News Hour,

But even if you have a cease-fire, the other conditions will be practically impossible for Assad to implement. Is he going to release tens of thousands of political prisoners? Is he going to allow unfettered access to the international media? If that happens, I can assure you what you will see in the streets are the massacres in Aleppo, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands probably of Syrians demonstrating. And he will be forced to shoot them. Otherwise, he will fall.

April 5: The New Republic publishes an article titled, "It's Time to Add Syria to Kofi Annan's Long List of Failures."

April 10: This is the day that Assad was to start adhering to Annan's six-point peace plan. Instead, Annan reports to the UN Security Council that Syria has failed "to send a powerful political signal of peace."

The New Republic publishes an article that asks, "Why Did Anyone Believe Bashar al-Assad's Promises of a Ceasefire to Begin With?" One paragraph reads,

Among the things the past year has taught us is that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a master of diversion. He is well-practiced at navigating the loopholes in international and domestic law, and acutely aware of the opportunities presented by repetitive non-binding statements. Unbacked by action, diplomacy has only ever provided cover and additional time for Assad to pursue his brutal goals. In that way, as long as the Security Council refuses to make a credible promise of force—endorsing and enforcing a strict deadline for a ceasefire—its efforts are unlikely to result in peace in Syria.

April 11: Annan announces that a ceasefire is imminent, that he has received "further clarifications" from the Assad regime and that the regime intends to suspend hostilities and respect his six-point peace plan.

April 12: A ceasefire is reported to have begun. But late in the day at least 37 people are reported as having been killed by army gunfire across Syria. Kofi Annan has urged the UN Security Council to demand a full military withdrawal from around hostile areas in order to comply with his peace plan and to bolster what he sees as an extremely fragile truce. Assad regime propaganda holds that it has stopped shooting now rather than earlier or weeks ago because it has accomplished something with its brutal assaults. Now, says Assad's ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, reforms can begin.

One analyst claims that the ceasefire will fail because of "irreconcilable ambitions within the country."

April 13: Complaints yesterday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others that Assad's big guns had fallen silent but that the Assad regime had "not pulled back from population centers" as required by Kofi Annan's peace plan. And there were reports late yesterday of snipers in neighborhoods shooting at people. A peaceful demonstration took place late yesterday in Hama that was shot at, and there were various killings in places across Syria. This morning, Friday, one headline reads "Syria troops kill three as thousands march." The Assad regime is demonstrating again that it is incapable of doing what it promises and that it speaks rationalizations and distortions (commonly known as bs and propaganda).

The Guardian reports at 12.44 EDT that "Tens of thousands of Syrians have taken to the streets for anti-government protests in the first major challenge to the country's 48-hours-old ceasefire, which for a second day witnessed isolated outbreaks of violence."

Not all hope is lost that Annan's plan will succeed. Kofi Annan is complaining but still hopeful.

April 15: The Assad regime displays a mentality incompatible with Annan's peace plan. It vows to crackdown on "terrorist attacks." That's to be expected. Nobody is asking that the troops not defend themselves if attacked. But according to Kofi Annan's plan the regime's troops are supposed to withdraw from cities, and withdrawn from the cities they would not be targets there and the Free Syrian Army would have some confidence in the ceasefire that is a part of Annan's plan. Instead, regime forces today are still shelling the city of Homs. There, El Mundo's Middle East correspondant Javier Espinosa reports an explosion every five to six minutes.

April 16: UN observers begin their arrival in Syria today, while the shelling in Homs continues and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon proclaims: "The whole world is watching with sceptical eyes."

Watch watch, talk talk, urge urge.

April 17: More absurdity. Amid reports of increased shelling by Assad's forces, no reports appear of warnings from Russia, China or Iran to the Assad regime to adhere to Annan's ceasefire. Instead from Russia, prevarication: Russia's foreign minister, Lavrov, speaks of foreign powers seeking the failure of Annan's plan by instigating the Syrian opposition, and he warns "third parties" to stay out of the conflict. Perhaps he is referring to US Secreatary of State Hillary Clinton's statement yesterday that the United States is "hoping for the best" but is discussing next steps with other powers if the ceasefire in Syria collapses.

I'm hoping I've been wrong and that Annan's patience and his plan works, but that hope, I tell myself, is my fantasy. I still cannot avoid believing that only armed force is going to remove the Assad family from power.

April 18: Yesterday, Kofi Annan met Arab leaders in Qatar and they are reported to have reiterrated their backing for his peace plan while admitting that it would take some time to work – a weak response to the Assad regime's recent broken promises (Assad's modus operandi ) and to the failure of Kofi Annan's repeated demands concerning dates and immediacy.

April 19: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is reported as proclaiming that there is "deeply troubling" evidence of continuing violence despite the nominal ceasefire. Secretary Ban is reported as wanting to increase the UN observors in Syria to 300, to be deployed over three months. Some other UN officials speak against placing unarmed UN observers in the vicinity of violence.

Yesterday, Secretary of State Clinton, in Brussels, said: "We are at a crucial turning point. Either we succeed in pushing forward with Kofi Annan's plan in accordance with the Security Council direction, with the help of monitors steadily broadening and deepening a zone of non-conflict and peace, or we see Assad squandering his last chance before additional measures have to be considered."

April 20: Massive Friday protests sweep Syria, with 18 of Assad's combatants reported killed and Assad's combatants reported as having killed 45 persons. A large sign carried by a group of protesters reads: "Clinton! Fire Assad with Tomahawks instead of your nonsense expressions of deep concern, condemn[ation] or resentment." (Video) (Warning, with Al Arabiya you have to rush to the right-hand column to turn off sound, by clicking on the little megaphone icon.)

April 22: Today in Geneva, Kofi Annan asked again for Syrian government forces and opposition fighters to put down their weapons. He added that "The government in particular must desist from the use of heavy weapons and, as it has committed, withdraw such weapons and armed units from population centers and implement fully its commitments under the six-point plan." He seems to have given up for the time being on immediacy or dates certain, but he is putting hope on the efficacy of the UN plan to send 300 observers to monitor the ceasefire. Here is a video of a monitor in Syria in action. I doubt that 300 monitors will be enough to stop the Assad regime killing people to save his regime. I wish it were not so, but I think that Kofi Annan and those who have put hope in his peace plan rather than tougher measures are still dreaming. Earlier this month I wrote that we shall see. We have seen what many of us expected – more slaughter as Assad takes advantage of talk-talk, watch-watch, dither-dither. Again, we shall see.

April 23: Today a friend told me about monitors to Syria analyzed on CNN on April 20. Monitors numbering 300 were considered ridiculously few given the area that needs monitoring. "For perspective, the U.N. force that went to Bosnia in 1992, totaled more than 40, 000." Fouad Ajami, Senior Fellow at Stanford University, concluded: "This peace keeping mission is doomed." Meanwhile, today, The Christian Science Monitor quotes Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert with The Washington Institute for Near East Policy as saying, "No one here [in Washington] thinks the Annan plan is going to work". And in Syria today so far, according to BBC News, "Shells and gunfire from Syrian security forces have killed 33 people in the city of Hama, activists say."

April 24: Seventy reported as having been killed yesterday in the city of Hama. Writes BBC News: "One activist there, Mousab al-Hamadi, told the Associated Press that dissidents were punished for coming out to greet the visiting UN observers on Sunday, when they chanted "Long live Syria! Down with Assad".

In Today's Washington Post Richard Cohen writes:

The United Nations has sent in observers, as many as 12 of them, with possibly 288 more on the way. So far, the Assad regime has played a cat-and-mouse game with them — withdrawing tanks and troops when the observers arrive, bringing them back when they leave. Whatever the case, Assad will not allow the United Nations to stand between him and his enemies.

Syria replays Bosnia. Step by step this charade unfolds in a predictable fashion. We can see the outcome. Assad will agree to almost anything but do almost nothing. He cannot turn back. Too much blood has been spilled. Too many oaths of vengeance have been taken.

Cohen ridicules recent bans on luxury goods.

Now the Europeans, presumably with the staunch support of the Obama administration, have imposed an across-the-board ban on the sale of luxury goods to Syria — and yet, somehow, the killing continues.

The imposition of the luxury goods ban was cited in a New York Times editorial with all the solemnity usually reserved for naval blockades — as good an example of any of how we have gone to dreamland.

April 25: Yesterday Marc Lynch, US political science professor and blogger, declared his opposition to a military option against the Assad regime. Instead he put his hopes on Kofi Annan and diplomacy. Mustering some realism he wrote, "It is highly unlikely that Bashar al-Assad or his regime will voluntarily comply with a ceasefire, and even more unlikely that they will surrender power. But international diplomacy does not depend on Assad's good intentions." What international diplomacy can do to stop the violence without Assad's good intentions is unclear. Lynch is putting himself in a never-never land between hard choices.

Apr 26: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says Assad's government is "in contravention" of the Kofi Annan peace accord to which it has agreed. Ban Ki-moon demands that Assad's government comply with that commitment "without delay." (Don't be shocked if Assad doesn't comply.)

April 27: Kofi Annan announces that violence in Syria has reached an "intolerable stage." Nora Basha (@Nora0315) asks in a tweet where he has been in the last thirteen months.

April 29: The Norwegian Major-General Robert Mood, head of the UN observer mission to Syria, warns that even 1,000 unarmed observers will not end the violence in Syria on their own. In other words, the violence will end when the Assad regime wills it, or it will end when the regime is overthrown.

It's time to move on from the question about the Kofi Annan's peace plan. Kofi Annan failed to assess with realism the nature of the Assad regime. The result has been false hope and delay in applying a more effective strategy against the Assad regime, whatever that may be.

May 4: Violence and death has been a daily occurance. The Assad regime hasn't budged from its many months of not adhering to any of its promises. But Kofi Annan's spokesman, Ahmed Fawzi, tells a news conference in Geneva that the Peace Plan is "on track."

May 9: Yesterday Kofi Annan was still in a pleading mode. To reporters in Geneva he spoke of "worrying episodes of violence" and to both sides in Syria's conflict he asked, "If you can do it for one day, why don't you do it for a week, a month, why don't you give peace a chance and give the people of Syria a break? Why do they have to put up with this trauma?" He seems incapable of realism. Passionate survival and conflicting interest struggles are not quelled by soft pleadings and wishful thinking. Kofi Annan ignores hard psychological and political realities. The civil war now taking place in Syria is not going to be settled by Syria suddenly becoming a mature and peaceful democracy. The conflict in Syria will be settled by the defeat of one side by the other. The Assad regime is not going to allow success by the many Syrians who are now its enemies. There was no day that Kofi Annan refers to that the Assad regime committed itself to peace and reconciliation. That is just another sweet fantasy.

May 30: Following the Houla massacre of May 25-26, Kofi Annan called on "every individual in Syria with a gun to lay down their arms." World leaders have voiced outrage over the massacre. Today, after a pleasant chat with President Assad in Damascus, Annan says: "I think with good will and hard work we can succeed."

Jun 1: Kofi Annan has an ally in Vladimir Putin. Today, in a news conference, Putin said: "Mr. Annan is a very experienced and respectable person, and we must do everything for his mission to succeed. I think it is counterproductive to announce his mission as a failure in advance," Putin told a news conference with his French counterpart Francois Hollande.

June 2: Qatar urges the UN to set a deadline for Mr Annan's peace plan, saying there should be no more "stalling". What they meant to say was another deadline, two or three deadlines already having come and gone.

June 4: Anti-Assad forces say they are no longer committed to Annan's ceasefire. Un Secretary General Ban Ki-moon rejects their call for armed international intervention, saying Annan's six-point peace plan remains "central" to resolving the crisis.

June 7: Another massacre in Syria, in the village of Qubair, 78 reported as butchered. UN observers were prevented from going there and were shot at. Kofi Annan says his Peace Plan is "in tatters." Having failed to understand the nature of the Assad regime and the conflict in Syria, and having created much delay in doing something effective against the Assad regime's rampage, Annan has the chutzpa to pretend to be the expert and tells the world that, "Individual actions or interventions will not resolve the crisis."

June 8: While standing next to Secretary of State Clinton, Kofi Annan says that the two will discuss how to move his stalled peace plan forward. "Everyone is looking for a solution," he says. "Some say the plan may be dead. Is the problem the plan or the problem the implementation? If it's implementation, how do we get action on that?" Clinton joins in, saying the pair will try to figure out how to "engender a greater response" by the Syrian government to Mr. Annan's overtures." Russia, meanwhile, has again rejected Clinton's overtures.

A civil war is raging in Syria, and some abstractionist utopians see an equivalence between the two sides. Sometimes with a civil war, peace comes not by some earnest wishful heavenly thoughts above the fray but by the success of one side against the other. Annan in my opinion should open his mind to the possibility that the Assad regime will never comply with the Peace Plan, for perceived reason of its survival, open his mind to the possibility that the best hope for Syria may be a more robust support for the better of the two sides: those who are fighting the bloody dictatorship that started it all by waging war against peaceful demonstrators.

June 18: Putin and Obama meet and in a joint statement give their "full support" to Kofi Annan's peace plan. Disgusting. More words.

July 5: A column in the Washington Post asks "Will Syria be Kofi Annan's tragedy redux?" Without addressing the points made, some go into a rage over the fact that it is written by Paul Wolfowitz. It's also written by Mark Palmer.

July 19: Kofe Annan is still talking about an agreement for an end to the violence in Syria. Richard Haass, president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, tells BBC News that the prospect of a lull in the conflict brought about by a UN mandate at this stage is "nonsense". Haass says, "Traditional peace-making in this context is a non-starter." He describes the time for negotiating a peaceful settlement as 2011 before Annan was fired up with his peace plan idea, before the Assad regime was locked into fighting for its survival.

July 20: Hisham Melhem, bureau chief of Al Arabiya News Channel in Washington, DC, tweets: "A new definition of collective denial: UNSC [United Nations Security Council] extends observer mission for 30 days. Does anyone believe there is a mission for observers?" Melhem recognizes the demonstrated futility of the 90-day observer mission, headed by Major General Robert Mood, that ends today.

July 21: The New York Times reports: "The Obama administration has for now abandoned efforts for a diplomatic settlement to the conflict in Syria, and instead it is increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down the government of President Bashar al-Assad, American officials say." It's unfortunate that the diplomatic effort by Kofi Annan wasn't recognized as misguided and a fantasy months ago. It amounted to a delay in favor of the bloody dictatorship of the Assad family.

July 26: On March 28 David Ignatius, a foreign policy columnist for the Washington Post wrote: "Morally, it's hard to dispute the justice of the opposition's cause; the problem is that these military solutions will get a lot more innocent civilians killed and destroy the delicate balance of the Syrian state. We should learn from recent Middle East history and seek a non-military solution in Syria." He allowed himself to be suckered into supporting Kofi Annan peace plan. It was Bashir al-Assad who made the peace plan not work and a military solution – by indiginous forces with some outside help – the only solution. Today Ignatius writes more about Syria, and he writes that it's time for Washington "to emphasize what the United States can do, rather than what it can't, in Syria." But he describes no alternative among the Syrians to a military solution.

August 2: Kofi Annan resigns as U.N. and Arab League joint special envoy to Syria.

September 19: Two weeks ago Kofi Annan published his memoir: Interventions: A Life in War and Peace. In an interview with National Public Radio he is asked whether there is always a peaceful solution to war. He answers: "No, I think there may be times when you cannot find a peaceful solution, but at least one should try. But there may be times when peace is not enough. On Kosovo for example, for the first time, as secretary-general of the U.N., I ... endorsed military action in Kosovo, arguing that there are moments when you need to put force at the service of peace. Because we had seen what had happened in Bosnia, and for me it was unconscionable that the world should sit back and let it get repeated in Kosovo." So far at Amazon.com no one has written a review for the book.

Copyright © 2012 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.