By Patrick Martin, Globe and Mail, March 27, 2012
The key to the success of Kofi Annan’s Six-Point Plan unveiled today lies in what is not said in the scheme: At no point does the plan call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down or delegate power.
This is in sharp contrast to earlier Arab League proposals, endorsed by the UN Security Council, that were far more judgmental and called for Mr. al-Assad to cede at least some of his powers to his vice-president in order to negotiate his transition from office.
Instead, the Annan plan calls only for a commitment by Syria to stop the fighting, to allow humanitarian assistance to reach victims, to release detainees more quickly, to allow journalists into the country, to respect freedom to demonstrate peacefully and to initiate a dialogue for political reform.
Even those points are gently worded. For example, Syria “should” cease troop movements toward population centres and “should” end the use of heavy weapons, and should “begin” the pullback of military concentrations. All this leaves ample room for Syrian interpretation.
As for negotiating Syria’s future political system, the Annan points call only for Syria to “commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the envoy [Mr. Annan].”
All this makes the scheme much more acceptable to Mr. al-Assad and to his allies in Moscow and Beijing, all of whom rejected the idea that Damascus was getting all the blame and the opposition militants none at all.
Getting all these people to sign up was deemed necessary as a starting point by Mr. Annan, and as acceptable by Washington, London and Paris, the other permanent members (along with Moscow and Paris) of the Security Council.
Indeed, people with personal knowledge of Mr. al- Assad say such an approach is the only way to bring about political reform, including democratizing the presidency, and pushing Mr. al-Assad to step down.
A former senior Syrian official, now critical of the regime, says Mr. al-Assad will never just leave office and hand the keys over to the opposition. “It’s unrealistic to expect that,” the former official said recently. “There would be chaos.”
This kid-glove entente is hardly worth the work that Mr. Annan has put into it. If mollifying China and Russia are the goal, then Mr. Annan has succeeded. If mollifying Assad, then Mr. Annan has succeeded once again.
However, if the ultimate sacrifice of over 8,000 Syrians through the brutality of the Assad regime is to have any real meaning, then clearly Mr. Annan has failed. Those lives have, by the stroke of the pen, become merely collateral damage, and Russia and China must be held accountable for that "oversight".
And it is clearly not an "oversight." By holding onto the construct that the Syrian government must not bear ALL the blame for the massacre, China and Russia have merely protected themselves from similar uprisings, and international scorn an contempt for any intervention by the state, no matter how brutal that intervention.
That Syria "should" do this or that, as the agreement is reported to be worded, is like telling a rebellious teen he "should" stay in school...only to learn later that he has become another casuality of the education and social services systems and become a convicted felon.
If diplomacy is to have any respect, the primary quality for any population to withold contravention of the law, it must genenrate confidence among the world's leaders. How could this agreement meet that smell test?
With all due respect to Mr. Annan, who undoubtedly did his best to craft an agreement that would "fly", we are left with an agreement similar to a paper airplane, able to fly long enough to capture a single day of headlines and perhaps even a single still photo, but destined for the trash heap with the first drop of rain, or public scrutiny.
Is the U.N. afraid of both Russia and China, with respect to how much muscle it is able to "lever" when the going gets really rough and thousands of individual lives have already been lost.
How many more will die under the shackles of this tyrannical regime, while the world sips its martinis in the corridors of power, congratulating Mr. Annan for his brilliant work?