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Kofi Annan’s Unnecessary Resignation

The United Nations envoy to Syria washes his hands of Syria

Adam Chandler
August 02, 2012

It’s come across the wire that former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has resigned his post as the UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria. In his resignation, Annan cited “finger pointing and name calling” in the UN Security Council for hastening his departure from the post he held since February.

Since authoring a six-point plan to resolve the crisis in Syria, Annan has fallen out of the Syria news so frequently that it’s often seemed difficult for observers of the conflict to remember that he was even involved in the first place. Thus, his resignation feels more like a formality–for his job as envoy resembled an assignment that he quit before he could be fired.

Annan’s legacy as envoy, in a lot of ways, resembles his broader legacy during his time at the United Nations, marked by impotence and inability to create breakthroughs in difficult conflicts. Yes, he did valuable work in helping to stabilize Kenya as well as usher East Timor to independence, but he also oversaw the UN peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia and Rwanda. It would also be an understatement to say Annan’s record on the Arab-Israeli Conflict was subpar.

Throughout the course of his latest assignment, Annan met with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad several times over the past few months, accomplishing nothing other than giving Assad a few shreds of international legitimacy and dangerous cover that Assad used to continue his brutal crackdown on the opposition (as well as killing civilians and torturing children).

Chief among Annan’s failures was the inability to use his position as an arbiter to influence Russia and China from thrice-vetoing measures that would have brought about an international consensus to punish Assad for his crimes and save countless lives. Instead, Assad responded to a call for a UN-brokered peace plan by simply killing more efficiently. It may have been a politically impossible feat anyway, but Annan’s presence as a mediator only served to buy Assad time, time which Assad used to do terrible things.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.