Apparently the Obama Administration and Secretary Clinton “botched” the chance for a peace agreement on Syria a year ago by taking too hard a line on Assad, or so says the National Journal:
Former members of [former UN Syria envoy Kofi] Annan’s negotiating team say that after then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on June 30, 2012, jointly signed a communique drafted by Annan, which called for a political “transition” in Syria, there was as much momentum for a deal then as Kerry achieved a year later on chemical weapons. Afterward, Annan flew from Geneva to Moscow and gained what he believed to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s consent to begin to quietly push Assad out. But suddenly both the U.S. and Britain issued public calls for Assad’s ouster, and Annan felt blindsided. Immediately afterward, against his advice, then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice offered up a “Chapter 7” resolution opening the door to force against Assad, which Annan felt was premature.
Annan resigned a month later. At the time, the soft-spoken Ghanaian diplomat was cagey about his reasons, appearing to blame all sides. “I did not receive all the support that the cause deserved,” Annan told reporters in Geneva. He also criticized what he called “finger-pointing and name-calling in the Security Council.” But former senior aides and U.N. officials say in private that Annan blamed the Obama administration in large part. “The U.S. couldn’t even stand by an agreement that the secretary of State had signed in Geneva,” said one former close Annan aide who would discuss the talks only on condition of anonymity. “He quit in frustration. I think it was clear that the White House was very worried about seeming to do a deal with the Russians and being soft on Putin during the campaign.” One of the biggest Republican criticisms of Obama at the time was that he had, in an embarrassing “open mike” moment, promised Moscow more “flexibility” on missile defense after the election.
Now, I’m not going to defend the Obama Administration’s Syria policy and I would certainly agree that it hasn’t been particularly praiseworthy, but there’s a massive problem with this tale (if it’s true) that goes past US intransigence and maybe gets at the UN’s deepest flaws. Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General and the UN’s appointed Special Envoy for Syria, believes that he had negotiated a firm agreement for political transition in Syria that included the input of precisely zero Syrians. Was there any indication that Russia would be able to successfully “push Assad out” even if Annan had secured their commitment to doing so? Was there any plan for managing this hypothetical transition to ensure that Syria didn’t wind up looking like Egypt does right now or, worse, like Afghanistan did circa 1996? Any consideration for what kind of transition (if any at all) the majority of the Syrian people might want? Any sense at all that the Syrian people would be involved in any way in the theoretical political transition in their own country?
No, none, at least not according to what we know about this deal right now. Annan dutifully negotiated a political transition in one country by trying to get agreements from the leaders of two other countries, with the assumption that the little people who just happen to occupy the first country would acquiesce once the Powers Had Spoken. Then he quit the process, not because the Syrians objected to his deal, which was never at any point actually put to them for their approval, but because one of the Great Powers backed off. The article itself, about how the Obama Administration “botched” this great deal, admits as much:
Still, Hof and critics of the administration say a 2012 peace deal would have been a steep, uphill climb at best. “I think there were a couple of problems that raised their ugly head in the immediate wake of this thing being signed on June 30,” Hof says. “Number one, it became clear to both Annan and the Russians that Assad had no interest whatever in being ‘transitioned.’ He was able to read the text of the Geneva agreement quite accurately…. By the same token, the opposition was unhappy with Kofi’s handwork because there was no explicit language to the effect that Assad will step down.”
This “agreement” was botched, but it was fatally botched from its earliest conception, long before any American rhetoric made Kofi Annan mad.