By Benjamin Villanti
By Benjamin Villanti
Morocco World News
New York, August 6, 2012
Kofi Annan resigned Thursday from his position as the leading United Nations and Arab League mediator to Syria, announcing he would not continue in the role when his term ends August 31.
Over the last few months, Annan was often criticized as pursuing a hopeless diplomatic track that allowed Russia to prevent tougher action in the UN Security Council and the Syrian government to buy time, while it continued its crack down on the opposition. In Syria, anti-government protestors even displayed signs calling for the “toppling of Annan the servant of Bashar and Iran.” Many speculated that the assignment was irreparably damaging the former UN Secretary-General’s legacy.
Perhaps one of the most frustrating moments for onlookers followed Kofi Annan’s July visit to Damascus, when afterwards he seemed to be endorsing some insincere “ground-up” approach that President Assad had proposed to him to end the violence. But as a mediator, Annan understandably was following a strategy to not offend those who he most hoped to influence. Additionally, he took on a mission that seemed ‘doomed to failure’ from the start. The Syrian government, as predicted, was never sincere about reaching a cease-fire and political compromise. The rebels sought vengeance after one year of enduring the government’s brutal tactics. And besides the positions of Russia and China in the Security Council, the continued flow of arms to rebels during the past four months showed little commitment by many of the opposition’s supporters to a cease-fire.
For all the criticism of Kofi Annan in recent months, it’s worth recalling his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech when he was bestowed the honor in December 2001. Annan’s words at the time essentially forecasted the Arab Spring that erupted ten years later as he used the opportunity to explain what he believed would be the sources of conflict in the twenty-first century. He claimed these sources would be linked to, both, economic disparities, as well as a universal yearning by people of all cultures for democracy. He pronounced in Oslo, “Where the dignity of the individual has been trampled or threatened—where citizens have not enjoyed the basic right to choose their government, or the right to change it regularly—conflict has too often followed.” “Dignity” and the right to elect their leaders are the rallying cries of the Arab Spring.
Even more poignantly, considering the ensuing conflicts of the Arab Spring, Annan said at the time, “The obstacles to democracy have little to do with culture or religion, and much more to do with the desire of those in power to maintain their position at any cost.” The last 17 months of bloodshed in Syria, not to mention Libya, Yemen and Egypt, show how true his words ring.
Along with foreseeing the source of conflict that ignited the Arab Spring (that so many analysts and press tout “no one ever saw coming”), Annan’s words also show that he never doubted that Arab or Islamic societies, because of culture and religion, would not be capable of attaining democracy. It’s a view that stands in contrast to what has apparently been a chief fear of Russia, which believes in Syria its a choice between the strong-armed rule of Assad and Islamic extremists, not to mention some American policymakers who, at the start of the Arab Spring, cautioned against backing the pro-democracy movements out of similar concerns.
The deadlock in the UN Security Council on how to effectively deal with the Syrian crisis, despite its enormous regional implications, let alone human tragedy, ultimately prompted Annan’s resignation last week. While Russia and China defend their position that it is not for the international community to weigh in on internal conflicts, Kofi Annan in 2001 was already advocating how the global community needs to respond to situations like Syria. “The sovereignty of states must no longer be used as a shield for gross violations of human rights,” said Annan in his 2001 speech.
It was all in this spirit that Kofi Annan revealed his true perceptions on Syria when he wrote Thursday in a Financial Times editorial after announcing his resignation, “It is clear that President Bashar Al Assad must leave office.” It’s a view of Annan that was already shaped long ago, and not simply to salvage an image after his failed mediation.
For now, Assad’s departure will only occur after an even greater conflict has been fought, with the Syrian president proving the endless means, once described by Annan, that many leaders will take to stay in power.
Benjamin Villanti has a Master of Public Administration from Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs and a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs from George Washington University. He is Morocco World News Editor
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