1 JULY 2014


All the names speculated to replace Lakhdar Brahimi are distinguished and highly regarded: Amr Moussa, former Secretary General of the Arab League; Kamel Morjane, former Foreign Minister of Tunis; Javier Solana, former Foreign Minister of Spain; NATO Secretary General and High European Commissioner, Mohammad Bin Issa, former Foreign Minister of Morocco. There is no question that all are honourable men capable of pursuing any worthy cause.

The obvious question is what precisely would a special envoy on Syria do, whether jointly with the Arab League or uniquely for the U.N.?

The fiasco over Representation on the Ukraine may have prodded Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to ponder the matter further with the resignation of the experienced and very well-informed Lakhdar Brahimi, who had taken over from the similarly -- yet differently (don't ask!) well-informed former Secretary General Kofi Annan. Obviously, there should have been a clear delineation between their two missions (particularly as it took some time for Brahimi to get rid of the cumbersome "Deputy" Nasser Al-Qudwa, who was obviously imposed for irrelevant reasons).

The situation has drastically changed, not only since the conflict began three years ago -- but since Geneva I and II were held. In fact, while Permanent members of the Security Council and a sincerely concerned yet very preoccupied Secretary General keep making daily political statements, the situation on the ground is daily taking a different turn. Within a few weeks since Brahimi officially left end May, substantive positions were shifted in Syria itself after the re-election of President Bashar al-Assad; in Jordan where the King is finding out more about the need to intervene more firmly; in Turkey where specific border posts -- plus internal embarrassment -- are pushing Sultan Erdogan to review his focus; in Iraq -- obviously -- were ISIS in Mosul, the Kurdish moves in Kirkuk, the awakening of former army officers of Saddam Hussein's army; a militant Shiite response to prevent a takeover of Najaf, let along Baghdad; the implications of millions of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, compounded by a Presidential vacuum; the changing conflict zones, the flow of foreign fighters and funded by known sources and individual volunteers. So many events in that region, yet so little knowledge or understanding at the Security Council and -- obviously -- at the U.N. Secretariat level.

Despite the best intentions, it will be futile to merely keep urging the two Permanent Members -- the U.S. and Russia -- to agree on a format about Syria. They had already agreed. Remember Geneva I. But each side kept interpreting differently in the vain hope that its allies on the ground would achieve uncontested results or the upper hand. There are clearer signals, yet the closer the sides get to asserting themselves, the quicker a new element confuses the situation. Perhaps the Secretary General will be in a better position if he waited a while before designating a replacement for Brahimi.

Perhaps Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson (who apparently over-estimated his qualifications elsewhere but under-estimated them in the region where at least he once served, however briefly!) could head a working group from internal and external members who would keep events under close daily supervision until it is time to designate a new full-time envoy with a refreshed mandate and unanimous -- really unanimous -- Security Council backup.

Meanwhile, the Syrian people and all others in that tormented region continue to pay the price.