Veteran Diplomat Will Need His 'Magic Touch' in Syrian Conflict

Article Summary
As Lakhdar Brahimi takes on the top mediator role in the Syrian conflict, he faces the same daunting challenges that chased Kofi Annan away: forging an international understanding, including between the US and Russia, while dealing with Syria's deteriorating domestic political environment, writes Abdallah Balqaziz.

There are no qualms about Lakhdar Brahimi’s diplomatic competence and efficiency, or his long experience in handling crises and finding ways to solving them. In 1989, Brahimi was the Tripartite Arab Committee’s envoy. His mission was to advance a solution to the “Liberation War” between Lebanese Gen. Michel Aoun (head of the military government at the time) and the Syrian Army. The Arab diplomat had to lay the groundwork for a political solution to end the Lebanese war that lasted for 15 years. Similarly, Brahimi was a UN envoy in Afghanistan following the NATO occupation. In Iraq, he was commissioned to advance an approach for an “interim government,” which was chaired by Iyad Allawi, who won the confidence of the US after American leadership broke its ties with Ahmed Chalabi. This is not to mention Brahimi’s numerous accomplishments at the levels of international and regional crises, which have made him an admired veteran diplomat.

Today, Brahimi has been once again called upon to take up a particularly difficult and complex mission. He has been commissioned to lay the groundwork for a “political process” to put an end to the violence and clashes in Syria, as a replacement for Kofi Annan, who resigned from this mission. Once again, the world is counting on Brahimi’s diplomatic savvy and his knowledge of Arab politicians’ “moods,” including both pro-government and opposition leaders alike. As mentioned, Brahimi had previous experience with the Syrian leadership, since he negotiated with it in regards to the Lebanese civil war. However, it remains unclear whether Brahimi’s mission will be launched along the lines of Kofi Annan’s “Six-Point Plan,” as urged by Russia and Syria, or will it be based on another vision that may share little common ground with Annan’s plan. Brahimi’s mission may also be reconfigured, at certain levels, so as to find new approaches to meet the demands of those who opposed Annan’s project, and worked to thwart his political quest from the onset of his mission.

Although Brahimi is a man of unquestionable diplomatic shrewdness, it might not be enough to come up with a political solution to the Syrian crisis that has so far proved to be indecipherable. Annan, his predecessor, is neither less efficient nor less experienced. He has served as a UN secretary-general and addressed major events and crises during the first decade of the century, such as the US-led Invasion of Iraq, the occupation of Afghanistan, the war on Serbia, the African Great Lakes wars, the world economic and financial crisis and many more. Thus, diplomatic competence alone without a suitable political environment is not sufficient. Political environment, however, is reliant upon peoples’ stance towards the crisis. Not all parties share the same positions towards Syria. In fact, conflicting views have led to armed clashes on Syrian territory — whether by proxy or in person. So, in the absence of a convenient political environment, which would pave the way for a potential solution, diplomatic savvy remains insufficient.

The Syrian domestic political environment does not play out to Brahimi’s advantage in laying the groundwork for a political solution, or “political process” that may lead to a political solution. This is particularly true since any action plan to be proposed by Brahimi must automatically include two mandatory requirements: a cease-fire and a political dialogue between the government and the opposition. Yet, both requirements are not negotiable. For today, the regime as well as the opposition obstinately believe in a decisive military option, as the sole solution to the crisis. For instance, the regime is certain that it can cause a setback to the opposition’s ranks, given its military superiority.  The opposition, on the other hand, believes it can drain the regime’s powers until it falls apart, in the hope of bringing in foreign military intervention. Both parties reject dialogue with varying degrees. For its part, the regime is calling for a political dialogue with the opposition factions it deems as partners in dialogue. Meanwhile, it rejects any form of communication with other opposition groups it considers to be mercenaries and terrorists.

The opposition rejects dialogue with the regime “that kills its own people,” as opposition forces put it. While some opposition factions believe that the regime will eventually be toppled, others view the departure of President Bashar al-Assad as a prerequisite to any dialogue.

This is the deteriorating political environment that will govern Brahimi’s initiative. Thus, should the international factors surrounding the Syrian crisis not improve, his mission is doomed to failure. One must note that international and regional dynamics affecting the Syrian crisis were the reason behind the complete fiasco of Annan’s “Six-Point Plan,” as well as the Geneva Accord. Indeed, these international dynamics pushed Annan to resign from his mission and thwarted the international observers’ projects in Syria.

Henceforth, Brahimi’s approach to solve the Syrian crisis will be closely reliant on his political savvy and his “magic touch” in laying the groundwork for a potential Russian-American understanding, on the one hand, and an understanding between Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia on the other, regarding a political solution in Syria.

Should Brahimi fail to sow the seeds of a fruitful understanding between the main players affecting the Syrian crisis, his mission would meet the same fate as Annan’s, and drag on for God only knows how long.

Found in: un envoy, un, lakhdar brahimi, arab league observer mission, arab

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