from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Save Kofi Annan

April 25, 2012

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

Kofi Annan is a very nice man. All the people around the world who would second that notion, or indeed advance it with great energy, should be joining together now to salvage his reputation.

As Secretary-General of the United Nations, Annan did not achieve much and did not push the great powers hard. But that is precisely why he was chosen to be the SG, and then re-elected. He got along with everyone, and unlike Kurt Waldheim did nothing that brought opprobrium on the institution. So he emerged with his reputation intact in 2006, and kept it that way: no dirty deals for quick millions, no associations with rotten causes.

Until now. Now, Annan is objectively speaking the greatest asset of the Assad regime. His failed mediation, or investigation, or negotiation, or whatever it is called, is what is blocking additional action against the Syrian regime. Assad is murdering scores of citizens, day after day, making a mockery of Annan and his peace plan. The decline in violence lasted a couple of days, and now Assad is back to normal. Annan has said he is alarmed at the surge of violence, but his solution is his 300 UN "observers," whom Syria is delaying and who, in any event, are not going to stop the Assad killing machine. So those who want to do nothing now hide behind Annan and his "plan," and behind its facade Assad expands the devastation. The day that Annan acknowledges these facts and resigns this post is the day the United States and the EU will have to face facts about Syria--and do something.

This is the week the President chose to speak about preventing atrocities, and to do so at the Holocaust Museum. The new mechanisms he outlined are useful, and will serve well whenever any president is determined to act. When a president is determined not to act, they will have no impact. There are always mechanisms available when officials wish to avoid facing a problem, just as there are means to act when the desire to do so is there.

Right now the best reason the United States, and everyone else, can offer for avoiding action on Syria is Kofi Annan and his peace plan. Annan owes it to himself, and friends of his ought to be telling him, to quit--now, immediately. A clear statement outlining all the efforts he has made and all the lies, deceit, and killings by the Assad regime would restore Annan’s own reputation (indeed, enhance it greatly) and force the United States and the EU to face the fact that the UN mission in Syria is dead. As Secretary General, the structures of the UN gave Annan some excuses for failing to speak truth to power. Today, he has no excuses.