UNITED NATIONS. THE DEAD OR THE DEADLINE?!

 

15 SEPTEMBER 2012

THE DEAD OR THE DEADLINE?!

Why did Kofi Annan announce the end of his mission in Syria a month before its official termination? Although end of August was the deadline, the Joint U.N./Arab League Envoy made the announcement to the media end of July. Again the question was not why, because his frustrated statements throughout were explaining it; but why then? And why not wait until the designated time for a less hurried transition?

Let's quickly state that from the beginning his mission seemed impossible. As if an increasingly uncontrolled situation on the ground and an obvious division among the Security Council were not challenging enough; his own mission was having its own internal limitation.

An unprecedented designation of a former Secretary General to a mission under his successor, while prestigious, carried the seeds of its own limitations. For example, while Annan needed to visit Damascus to explore options, Ban Ki-moon publicly considered President Assad beyond redemption. Who actually expressed U.N. policy was left to their able Spokesman to handle. Operationally, military observers were getting mixed signals. Their Chief, General Mood, a straight arrow who knew Syrian army officers from earlier assignments there, had his experienced perception of his role on the ground. Yet he was caught between the Mission's Senior Deputy in Geneva, French diplomat Jean-Marie Guehenno, who had led Peacekeeping during Annan's tenure, and current U.N. Peacekeeping chief, another French diplomat, experienced Quai d'Orsay inside Ambassador Herve Ladsous. When the Norwegian General decided to leave, Annan lost his real military wing, even with the arrival of a replacement. A couple of weeks later in July, Guehenno was recalled to Paris as a member of a committee to draft a "white paper" on "how the military forces of France could contribute to reducing public finances." That is, Annan's diplomatic French wing was also lost. Another "deputy," Nasser al-Qudwah, a former PLO Representative to the U.N., was already missing in action; the Syrian government would not receive him and opposition groups were too busy bickering to heed his repeated approaches.

Kofi Annan said he accepted "mission impossible" as a sacred duty. Right. His dedication to defending human dignity, including his own, is beyond doubt.

A cautious diplomat like Annan would not have spent so much time on such an assignment if he was not encouraged -- possibly asked -- by a network of high-level contacts, particularly U.S. Democratic Administration officials. Ban Ki-moon would not have appointed him unless mentioned by someone to whom he would seriously listen. An intended consequence of having a high-level official like Annan (he loves "high level," by the way) explore a negotiated framework for a managed conflict was to GAIN TIME. All FIVE Permanent members of the Security Council with veto power welcomed having time, each for their own interest. China and Russia may have hoped that President Assad would effectively deal with his opposition. France's President Sarkozy (at the time) sought to avert any volatile action before his shaky chances of re-election. The U.K. generally observed, taking the politically correct posturing. Most important, U.S. President Obama needed no drama during his crucial re-election campaign; at least nothing major before November.

Contrary to public rhetoric, the Special Envoy was not getting any real help from his friends. Internal problems within his own dissembling team were compounded by escalating uncontrolled armed clashes on the ground and a political stalemate abroad.

In regular U.N. work, S.G. stands for Secretary General. In diplomatic parlance, it could also mean Scape Goat. Annan, who rose through the ranks and had his own "travails" knew from experience how depressing that could feel. He therefore had every right to leave and focus on issuing his book of memoirs.

Yet, again, why the hurry?

We were told that from the beginning the book was scheduled first for the end of the year, then moved to 4 September, which requires contacts and availability to media -- on the book, not on the Syrian mission -- at least a month before. We also knew that one assistant in drafting the book was placed as a member of the Envoy's team (did he get a six-month contract at U.N. expense?!).

In mid-July, we had a heated argument in Europe with some fairly well-informed Middle East folks who claimed that Annan's mission was -- in addition to gaining time for President Obama -- a Public Relations prelude to the book. We don't believe that. We are convinced that Kofi Annan did his best to stop the killing and implement his six-point plan, despite formidable obstacles. However, announcing his end of mission too early for no publicly obvious reason played into the hands of those who would claim that while sincerely caring for the dead, Kofi Annan's valuable attention was unduly diverted to pursuing the deadline!