March 27th, 2012
10:44 PM ET

Kofi Annan's plan is destined to fail

Editor’s Note: David Schenker is the Aufzien fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  

By David Schenker – Special to CNN

President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to U.N. envoy and former Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s six-point plan to end the bloodshed in Syria.  Al-Assad was wise to do so.  The U.N. initiative, which endorses al-Assad’s oversight of a “political process to address the legitimate aspirations” of the Syrian people - is a boon to the dictator and a setback for the opposition.

Al-Assad had little to lose by signing on to the plan.  The concessions he made in the deal- - the ceasefire, the ensuring of humanitarian assistance, a release of political prisoners, allowing entry to journalists, and permitting demonstrations - can all be reversed relatively quickly. 

Meanwhile, the benefits for al-Assad are significant.  Notwithstanding having killed nearly 10,000 Syrian citizens, some U.N. member states will likely view the president’s acceptance of the plan as a positive step providing evidence of the regime’s new willingness to compromise with the opposition.  More importantly, Annan’s plan says nothing about al-Assad having to leave, much less face trial for crimes against humanity.  To wit, when queried on March 27 about whether al-Assad would step down, Annan said “it’s up to the Syrian people.”

Putting aside the absurd supposition that the Syrian “people” ever had or ever will be empowered to determine al-Assad’s future through peaceful means, the plan not only perpetuates, but legitimates al-Assad’s continued rule.  For the time being, at least, the debate has changed from how al-Assad can be forced from power to what reforms the Syrian strongman can be convinced to make.

At the same time, the plan hurts the opposition.  The predictably divergent responses to the news of al-Assad’s acceptance from the Syrian National Council, the opposition’s government in exile, highlight rifts within the group.  Should the negotiations actually occur, questions of who will speak for the opposition will only exacerbate extant divisions.  Worse, Annan’s plan will slow the momentum building in Washington calling for providing critical funding and lethal assistance to the Free Syrian Army, the military opposition to the regime.

For al-Assad, the Annan plan also provides a useful respite both from international condemnation and for his troops.  In particular, a ceasefire would give the regime’s 4th Division -  some 12,000 Alawite troops loyal to the minoritarian Alawite regime - a much-needed break.   For the past year, the division has been deployed throughout Syria, tasked with suppressing largely Sunni Muslim rebel forces.

Accepting this U.N. roadmap is vintage al-Assad regime strategy.  As usual, he is playing for time.  During the Bush Administration, for example, the regime was under a lot of pressure, internationally isolated for its assumed role in the murder of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and for helping to move insurgents into Iraq to kill American soldiers.

At moments of maximum international pressure on the regime, however, al-Assad would float the possibility of negotiations with Israel.  The mere prospect of Damascus joining the peace camp alleviated the pressure and ended Syria’s pariah status.   Al-Assad succeeded in waiting out a hostile Bush Administration, which was replaced by an Obama Administration that campaigned on a pledge to diplomatically engage the regime.

If the Annan plan had even a remote chance of succeeding, it might be worth risking the potential downsides.  Alas, there is absolutely no prospect of success.  Al-Assad had more than ten years to implement political reforms.  Judging from al-Assad’s recently intercepted emails where he referred to promised reforms as “rubbish laws of parties, elections, and media,” the revolt has not spurred an epiphany.

While al-Assad may indeed engage in dialogue with opposition figures, he will not consent to real democratic elections that will lead to majoritarian [i.e. Sunni Muslim] rule in Syria.  He may likewise agree to vest parliament with more authority and provide the historically powerless legislature with the appearance of relevance.   But this is al-Assad’s vision of reform - it does not reflect the aspirations of the Syrian people who, for the past year have put their lives on the line to end the corrupt, tyrannical, and increasingly brutal regime.

What al-Assad will offer during the “political process” will be acceptable to neither the political nor the military opposition.  In fact, it’s difficult to see anything short of al-al-Assad’s departure from power being accepted.

So Kofi Annan’s initiative to end the crisis in Syria is destined for failure. To be sure, al-Assad will blame the plan’s failure on the opposition “terrorists” and continue with the atrocities.  Meanwhile, the opposition will regroup, and the Free Syria Army, armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, will continue the fight to protect demonstrators and end the regime.

At the end of the day, however, the biggest cost of this ill-advised effort may be time.  The longer the conflict drags on, the more Islamist the opposition is becoming.   Regrettably, counterproductive U.N. efforts like the Annan plan will do little to reverse this trend.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of David Schenker.

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Topics: Diplomacy • Syria • United Nations

soundoff (71 Responses)
  1. TMS

    In short, West plans to topple Assad failed (thanks to Russia and Iran) and now it is the only face saving option. The opposition was just a western puppet and so is not really matter

    March 28, 2012 at 1:00 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      This plan does the opposition a disfavour, but it's also a caveat that it has to be more orgainised!

      March 28, 2012 at 3:51 am | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        The opposition should continue to demonstrate peacefully, day after day! Meanwhile it gets its act together, win more sympathy from Assad's supporters. It has to show its strength and capabilities of running a post-Assad's Syria NOW.

        March 28, 2012 at 4:02 am |
      • j. von hettlingen

        The author is right about Annan's plan. Annan has read history and knows all about the twists and turns of a revolution. It's a tortuous path that sometimes leads to unpredicatable destinations.

        March 28, 2012 at 4:42 am |
    • Thinker23

      So now it's the (potentially Islamist) opposition and NOT the Syrian dictator that was the "Western puppet"? How about Egypt? Was the opposition there and NOT the former president Mubarak the "Western puppet" there? How about the "Arab Spring" in general? Is it (the "Arab Spring") a "Western Puppet" now?

      It is hilarious how some of us blame the West for everything switching the sides as appropriate...

      March 28, 2012 at 5:10 am | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        The West stands its ground and supports any people, who want to shape the future of their country. The Syrian want Assad to step down and it's their choice. But they also have to think about what they are doing – a vision, a leadership and consensus etc...

        March 28, 2012 at 7:01 am |
      • mardjan

        You know, what your problem is that you want to fit everything in a pattern, for example you decide that if everyone has used Nukes as deterrence Muslims won't, they want to and want to commit collective suicide and bomb everybody else, Then there is Pakistan and you get all confused and we all laugh at you. Now you are stuck on "puppet". Why don't you examine the facts as they are? Blackwater is training the "opposition "in Turkey. The Arab League sends an envoy for peace at the same time that Hillary is arming the "opposition". No wonder nobody takes this peace initiative seriously. WE have to learn to mind our own business. It is cheaper.

        March 30, 2012 at 11:47 am |
      • AlexShch

        "It is hilarious how some of us blame the West for everything switching the sides as appropriate..."

        Come on, West is switching sides all the time. Have you heard about the freedom-loving Democratic Student Movement Taliban nourished by the United Stated as specifically advised by honorable Zbigniew Brzezinski? Have you heard about legendary freedom fighter Gulbeddin Hekmatiar who was one time the number 1 recipient of US help during the so called Wilson's War?.

        April 2, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • George Patton

      How right you are, TMS! Just ignore these idiots here who don't agree with you. After all, they've been brainwashed by the right-wing news media and that's that!!!

      March 28, 2012 at 11:20 am | Reply
    • Alex

      In short, the West can topple Assad regime whenever it wants. The West can also kick painfully Putin's ass if he dares to resist that. Yet now the West has enough waging wars in the Greater Middle East and this is sole reason why Assad still reigns and why Putin can still twaddle his funny "powerful Russia" saved Syria.

      March 28, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Reply
      • Andrey

        I see that your world is turning around Putin's ass – a nasty obsession you have got yourself. But it makes you a good liberal (dems, reps and EU) – that is exactly their approach to the world: own superiority and lots of hate to everybody who refuses to see the things the same way they do. Nice people indeed! I guess the world has got nearly enough of them!

        March 28, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Nadia

      If russia stops supplying weapons to syria the syrian themselves will bring down assad also hezbollah and iran have to stop their support also.

      March 29, 2012 at 9:32 am | Reply
      • Tahir

        And what will happen if the USA stop supporting terrorists in Syria

        March 29, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
      • Lionel Mandrake

        Tahir, terrorists in Syria? wow please share your intelligence hehehe...
        Share your references at least.

        March 29, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
      • mardjan

        there were a e few AQ style bombing. Extensive evidence of torture and intimidation of cilvilian by the "opposition" has been presented to the UNHRC. That is an established fact.

        March 30, 2012 at 11:51 am |
      • habibi

        If it is an "established fact" then you should be able to quote your reference.

        March 31, 2012 at 9:54 am |
      • Tahir

        Lionel
        Who is providing money for weapons to opposition in Syria and earlier in Libya. Common sense is enough for proof.

        March 31, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • AlexShch

      In short, you got everything right.

      The whole article is cheap propaganda designed to do some face saving after, what is already becomes clear, a foreign policy failure for the West. One phrase is worth highlighting: "While al-Assad may indeed engage in dialogue with opposition figures, he will not consent to real democratic elections that will lead to majoritarian [i.e. Sunni Muslim] rule in Syria." In reality Assad does not engage into any dialog with the opposition (regardless whether he agrees to engage or not) because the opposition does not want to engage at the first place - there is nothing much room to compromise here: opposition leaders expressed many times that they want Assad to be hanged, so the only topic to negotiate here is the drop distance. But more importantly, "majoritarian [i.e. Sunni Muslim] rule" is what actually caught my eye. Assad is essentially a secular government, and Syria as of today is secular state separating religion from politics. What is advocated here as democracy is the majoriry rule selected on the basis of specific religious sect. This is called democracy according to the western media. Wow.

      April 2, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Reply
  2. pmcdonald

    Bilge. At least argue an opinion with evidence. Bilge.

    March 28, 2012 at 2:48 am | Reply
  3. Benedict

    It‘s up to the Syrian people?! What has 12 months of blood and tears been all about if it isn‘t the wish of Syrians for a new political era that doesn‘t involve an Assad?! Destined to fail is an understatement!!

    March 28, 2012 at 9:24 am | Reply
  4. janoberg

    Thus speaks an academic who, unfortunately, doesn't know much about conflict analysis, conflict-resolution or reconciliation. These are professional academic fields today, and it is not David Schenker's fault that CNN/Fareed Zakaria – like virtually every other Western media – keep on ignoring professional, non-military aspects of conflict and invite experts who are blinded by outdated Realpolitik paradigms and – directly or indirectly – advocate the least intellectual and ethical methods: those based on violence before all the civilian ones have been tried.
    Why do we find, across the board of Western mainstream media, a series of negative/skeptical articles about Annan's mission, invariably the same people who have never thought of the possibility of being skeptical to military solutions which anybody who wants to can see have not yielded exactly impressive results in, say, Kosovo, Macedonia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya.
    How come they don't see that civilian means have yielded some more hopeful results such as against Marcos, the Shah, Milosevic, or think of the Solidarnosc movement, the Velvet Revolution, Cairo last year. No, not perfect but opening many more doors than wars and occupation. Democracy and freedom don't arrive by foreign fighters.
    That said, why is it Annan's fault that the Syrian opposition is divided? Is it his fault that some of them have been armed and promised support by Western government/merchants of death? Is it his fault that the international 'community' (a term used about a handful of Western/NATO government) have taken about 12 months to find out that there was a need for mediation – but have no single organization geared to do early warning, early planning and early – non-violent – action at an early stage when conflicts have not deteriorated into war.
    Please be fair. Give Mr. Annan a chance. Support him in his noble effort and stop being cynical. Violence-based solutions are for the intellectually lazy and are no solutions at all in 98% of the cases. Put his mission on your front page so people can get positive role models and hope; don't do what the New York Times does today: Put more or less Israel-oriented articles and Zuckerberg in China news on its front page but not a word about Annan's mission. And if you cannot see anything positive in the principles of mediation, negotiations and professional conflict-resolution but condemn it before it has been tried, I urge you to read a book or two about non-violence, conflict analysis and mediation. There are 850 educational programs worldwide on peace and conflict studies.
    Sincerely
    Jan Oberg, dr.hc., director
    The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research in Lund, Sweden
    http://www.transnational.org

    March 28, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Reply
    • Richard flores

      peace means respect for human life, balance and harmonious relationships. Non of which exist in Syria. Peace is a two way street. Assad needs to go by any means necessary. His is the anti-peace, he is evil. If you want to give peace in the cities that are being bombed and shelled, then put your family inside those cities and say you want more time for peace to work.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:50 am | Reply
    • Richard flores

      peace means respect for human life, balance and harmonious relationships. Non of which exist in Syria. Peace is a two way street. Assad needs to go by any means necessary. His is the anti-peace, he is evil. If you want to give peace more time in the cities that are being bombed and shelled, then put your family inside those cities and say you want to give Assad more time to consider peace to materialize out of his good heart.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:54 am | Reply
    • Richard flores

      peace means respect for human life, balance and harmonious relationships. Non of which exist in Syria. Peace is a two way street. Assad needs to go by any means necessary. He is the anti-peace, he is evil. If you want to give peace more time in the cities that are being bombed and shelled, then put your family inside those cities and say you want to give Assad more time to consider peace to materialize out of his good heart.

      March 29, 2012 at 1:54 am | Reply
    • Hasai

      Sir. Your arguments ignore two highly salient points.

      First, all of your examples of success were in places where the sitting regime did not have the stomach to take it "to the knife." Al-Assad's regime, much like his father's, has shown itself more than willing to do so.

      Second, you argument ignores the fact that al-Assad has played the world for suckers for over a decade, making cooing noises over the latest peace plan when appropriate, then later laughing at the naive fools in private. Given such a track record –and its resounding success to date– how many times, sir, can a man spit in your face before "I'm sorry" simply does not suffice any more?

      March 29, 2012 at 10:53 am | Reply
      • Lionel Mandrake

        Hey Abdul, why should he rewrite anything, his English is excellent and his point is well made.
        Go back to your imam and tell him you need more English courses because you are coming off as an idiot.

        March 29, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  5. katerina

    I'm very glad to see somebody who can thinking positive. It is very sad when people believe only force and fight.Wars always were the most miserably exit to resolve problem. West like it but I am not.But i think West have own plan and do the best for done it of course with profit for oneself..

    March 28, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Reply
    • Lionel Mandrake

      No Fathma, this sounds more like your islamist brethren.

      March 29, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Reply
  6. CIA

    Thanks, we will take it from here.

    March 28, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Reply
    • KGB

      Oh, yeah....Good luck, comrade.

      March 30, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  7. citizenmn

    This plan only slows down the inevitable collapse of Assad's regime.

    March 28, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Reply
  8. Hasai

    "Kofi Annan's plan is destined to fail."

    Did it really take a political analyst to come to this conclusion?

    I hope you didn't pay him too much, CNN: Common sense should free of charge.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:57 am | Reply
    • Lionel Mandrake

      No, you are right, it does not take an analyst, it takes a genius like you hehehe...

      March 29, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Reply
  9. ram

    What are you drinking, man? President Assad is the legitimate ruler of his country..only the west, in between pot shots at the mall, come up with who is legitimate and who isn't, depending on who licks whose ass.
    You must be a magician to know ahead of time what President Assad will do.
    The fact that there are harmful elements that are in uprising in Bahrain and Yemen is accepted. ...but not accepted when President Bashar says that the same thing is happening in the country and was not accepted when Kadafy said so. There is a common thread among the ones that are not believed. They dont suck up to the west.
    People like you and many others in the western journalist circle just write any junk to get the next paycheque.
    Now I will write my junk:
    There are approximately 85 percent of the silent majority in Syria that have to be protected by the legitimate government from the rioters with guns. As far as I know it takes 51% to be a majority in any democratic or other system. I am 99% sure that the insurgents do not amount to more than 7 percent. They look like its a greater amount but they keep moving around so it look like a lot of people rebelling.
    Syria will sort itself out. They dont need pity from ones who will make money off their backs. There should be no interference from the west, east, north or south.
    The west is in deep trouble, economically, financially, influence etc...they should look after their poor ones and take care of them as President Assad is taking care of the silent, without guns, Syrians.

    March 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  10. desert voice (troubledgoodangel or Nathanael or Bohdan or Voiceinthedesert)

    How could there be a peace arranged with Hitler after the first 5 million Jews were gassed? Only Kofi Annan knows how. I see no peace in the cards with al Assad, after his forst 5,000 murders!

    March 29, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Reply
    • Tahir

      Just like how Mr Bush thought to bring peace and freedom to Iraqi people by killing millions of people through war. It is very simple.why have you problem in understanding.

      March 29, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Reply
      • habibi

        Islam's Latest Contributions to Peace
        "Mohammed is God's apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless
        to the unbelievers but merciful to one another" Quran 48:29

        2012.03.30 (Yayakhil, Afghanistan) – Nine Afghan police are shot to death in their sleep by a Taliban wearing a uniform.
        2012.03.29 (Quetta, Pakistan) – Sunni militants open up on a group of Shiites with automatic weapons, taking down at least five, including a woman.
        2012.03.28 (Nazimabad, Pakistan) – Wahhabi gunmen pick off a Shiite tailor outside his shop.
        2012.03.28 (Damagun, Nigeria) – Radicals shouting 'Allah Akbar' break into a police station and kill a cop.
        2012.03.27 (Jahoni, Iraq) – Four men caught drinking are machine-gunned by fundamentalists.
        2012.03.26 (Badan Kot, Pakistan) – A preacher is gunned down by Religion of Peace rivals in a mosque.

        March 30, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
      • habibi

        Who is full of it?
        Blazing Qur’ans and the Deception of Muslim Contrived Indignation
        In February of this year, American troops burned copies of the Qur’an at an army base in Afghanistan. Western media were immediately abuzz with the Muslim response: massive riots causing the deaths of dozens of local Afghans, a Taliban revenge suicide attack on US troops, car bombs, an Afghan policeman enraged by Qur’an burnings murders two US officers, Afghan soldiers turn on US troops and shoot two, Taliban suspends talks with the USA, and in an incendiary anti-American speech Afghan president Karzai calls America “a demon” comparable to the Taliban. At least 40 die and hundreds are injured.

        The event spawned three (count’em, three!) parallel and separate legal inquiries. The soldiers may be disciplined; but according to Congressman Allan West’s interpretation of the events, prisoners were writing extremist messages to one another in the pages of the Qur’ans, thus effectively desecrating them according to Muslim practice. And the incident provides support for Obama’s call for a pre-election pull-out from Afghanistan.

        March 30, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • mardjan

      If Hitler wanted peace he could have had it. The problem was that he was so full of himself and the Aryian nation.The WWII as far as Hitler was concerned was a war of choice. He didn't have to do it but he did. The rest is history.We must be very careful here not to make his mistake. We don't have to interfere in Syria.

      March 30, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Reply
  11. Tahir

    At the moment no plan can work if it is not supported by USA. If the current plan is supported by USA it will be successful otherwise it will destined to failure.It is not a complicated chemistry.

    March 29, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Reply
    • Lionel Mandrake

      Wow Tahir, that was a complicated statement.

      March 29, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Reply
    • Lionel Mandrake

      hehehe...

      March 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Reply
  12. bezboz

    Yes, Ben Wedeman is right. The Arab League did have a plan before. The plan included sending monitors to study the situation on the ground. The results of the AL Inspector's report were not in line with the plan to topple Al Assad so they were pulled out as soon as that became clear.

    Then the Arab league had another initiative to stop the violence and in the same breath, members of the AL were arming, training and bankrolling the opposition. The plan, again, was clear.

    Now, Ms. Clinton speak of how Assad over promises and under delivers. I wonder why she thinks she can dictate to anybody what actions they need to take and the timeline. She might mean well but putting pressure on one side is not going to work. It is not only unfair but can lead to further escalation since the other side feels vindicated while they don't have much power or popular support in many parts of Syria.

    Either push both sides to the negotiations table or watch this spiral into civil war.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Reply
  13. Bill

    I am not sure why all of these analysts feel Assad is in threat of losing power. He has a determined Alawite following that has no choice but to follow him to the end. The violence, for the most part, is located throughout small pockets of the country, and not in the majority of the country as the press attempts to portray. For the most part, as Assad stated, the military capabilities of the resistance have been squashed.
    Other than the potential to run out of funds, I do not see why Assad cannot hold on to power for a very long time. No serious international pressure has been applied, and this is the only way regime change could be forced.

    April 2, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Reply
  14. police

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    May 7, 2013 at 7:48 pm | Reply
  15. In Home Personal Training

    Get the chemical weapons out of the country and let them fight it out.We will have to deal with the mess sooner or later.The Arab world is so crazy and backwards.

    April 13, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  16. George Patton

    What, may I ask, has this to do with Syria or Assad? Take your idiotic advertizing elsewhere, please!!!

    March 28, 2012 at 11:22 am | Reply
  17. habibi

    You duh man Abdul!

    March 30, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Reply

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