March 31, 2012

Annan's Syrian Plan Circles Drain

Kofi Annan is presumably acting with good intentions. When he flatters Bashar al-Assad with the slightest expectations, Annan is speaking from a lack of options to end Syria's bloodshed. He must stay neutral or al-Assad could run off like a frightened deer - except al-Assad is no deer and Syria isn't experiencing a crisis to be resolved ASAP. Annan's conflict resolution has little immediate place in a revolutionary conflict. While Syria's revolutionaries continue to fight for their lives and future, the United Nations and Arab League are fighting to sell their failed proposal.

"The government must stop first and then discuss a cessation of hostilities with the other side," Annan spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told reporters on Friday morning, three days after al-Assad ”accepted" the former secretary-general's six-point initiative. "We are appealing to the stronger party to make a gesture of good faith... The deadline is now."

This reasoning is fatally distorted by the intense nature of Syria's burning revolution. Attempting to counter widespread doubts over the AL/UN proposal, Fawzi insists, "We expect him to implement this plan immediately." Where their expectation comes from (beyond propaganda and desperation) is a mystery. al-Assad's regime has intentionally scuttled the Arab League's diplomacy and "negotiations" with Annan were paired with assaults on oppositional territory. The Local Coordination Committees estimated that upwards of 50 people were killed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. al-Assad is speaking through violence and has no intention of "making a gesture of good faith."

The Annan plan "specifically asks the government to withdraw its troops, to cease using heavy weapons in populated centers," Fawzi said. "The very clear implication here is that the government must stop first and then discuss a cessation of hostilities with the other side and with the mediator."

According to various media sources, al-Assad will deliver a speech next week that offers a ceasefire on the condition that Syria's rebels halt their operations first. He is almost certain to blame the opposition for all of the state's woes and vindicate the regime's "leadership." Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi gave a preview on Friday night, saying that military units won't withdraw from "any zone" until it "returns to normal life." Normal, to Makdessi, means the killing and taking of hostages by opposition forces, but his slander transcends the physical. Normal is simple code for prerevolutionary - the thought that Syria's revolution doesn't exist. In comments that are sure to be echoed by al-Assad, Makdessi declared on state TV, "The battle to bring down the state in Syria has already ended and the battle of reinforcing stability has started."

"The regime wants to send a message to the Friends of Syria that all is well and they have control of the situation, to break the morale of the revolution," said Wadi Jamal, a coordinator between the Syrian National Council (SNC) and Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Foreign powers are clearly stalling for time just as al-Assad is. Although many Western and Gulf officials doubted the sincerity of his latest response, the UN's rhetoric is gashed by a major disconnect with al-Assad's personality. The international community is currently adding to the opposition's division by pushing a divisive political initiative upon them, one that stipulates a dialogue with al-Assad despite his brutal insistence to remain in power. SNC chairman Burhan Ghalioun has yet to solidify his standing with local Syrians, but the exile may speak for many revolutionaries when he announced, "We have no illusions over the possibility of the mission's success because Bashar Assad and the Syrian regime have no credibility to engage in a political process. It will soon become obvious the regime won't even implement the first clause of the agreement."

The opposition's problems also distract from the reality that Western and Gulf states are divided on a course of action - they might not be able to decide on their scale of intervention even when given a transparent opposition. Meanwhile al-Assad remains flanked by a unified Moscow and Beijing, who supported Annan's shuttle diplomacy as a means of relieving pressure on al-Assad and themselves. They also expect to subvert Annan's proposal by shifting the burden of responsibility to Syria's opposition and involved foreign powers - a classic counterrevolutionary tactic. Before al-Assad had done anything at all, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told reporters on Tuesday, "this is a step forward... Now it's the opposition's turn."
"We'd like to call on Syria's opposition to make responses as soon as possible to create conditions for opening dialogue and stopping violence," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei added on Friday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is presently highlighting the divisions between Western and Gulf capitals as she attempts to close the gaps before Sunday's "Friends of Syria" conference. Stopping over in Riyadh en route to Istanbul, Clinton fulfilled one of al-Assad's stipulations by applying her brakes to King Abdullah's suspected arming of the opposition. Whether Washington genuinely or only publicly opposes a weaponization process remains unknown; a double game with Riyadh and its hegemonic arm, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), is easily playable. According to media reports, Clinton responded "very well said" after Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told her, "The arming of the opposition is a duty, I believe, because it cannot defend itself without weapons."

Washington and Riyadh have succeeded if their objective is to manufacture a legitimate cause to intervene. Otherwise a massive amount of pressure to arm Syria's revolutionaries is due to erupt on Sunday. Unimpressed with Annan's diplomacy and the international proposal that he represents, Ghalioun considers al-Assad's "acceptance" to be "another lie and a maneuver" to disguise his crackdown. Similarly, the Syrian Revolution's activists on Facebook reported to the Arab League's "national dialogue" by posting, "The Muslims and the Arabs have abandoned us ... but God is with us ... and our determination will carry us to victory."

Ghalioun says the council and its allies have "repeatedly called for the arming of the Free Syrian Army. We want the 'Friends of Syria' conference to live up to this demand."

Implementation of a "safe no-fly zone" into Turkey forms the other half of an asymmetric struggle to oust al-Assad's regime. His flirtation with Annan indicates an organized drive to pit his foes against each other, and the strongman will feed on discord if the SNC and its alleged friends cannot reach an agreement on Sunday. Syria's current narrative in the media is focusing on the lack of a "Plan B" and accompanying low expectations hovering over Istanbul, but the summit is packed with significance: the potential to force a strategic review in Washington.

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