Edward Mortimer: Setting the Record Straight on Kofi Annan’s Legacy

Edward Mortimer was director of communications at the office of the U.N. secretary-general from 2001 to 2006. 

For months we have been told that Syria is "on the brink of civil war." Now the head of United Nations peacekeeping has admitted the obvious. Civil war of the most ruthless kind is already there.

President Bashar Assad is not ready to leave, and still has significant support – both inside the country, mainly among minorities who fear that the sequel to his fall will be similar to what Iraq has gone through since 2003, and among foreign powers ranging from Russia to Iran and its satellites in Iraq and Lebanon.

The Syrian opposition, for its part, believes things have gone way beyond the point where dialogue with the regime is possible or acceptable – and it too has powerful foreign backers in the region (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar) as well as more hesitant ones in the West.

So the mediation attempt of the United Nations-Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, came too late to prevent civil war, and too soon to end it. But Annan himself is not to blame. On the contrary, he should be praised for his willingness to try and halt the appalling violence to which the Syrian population has been and is being subjected – a task which was probably hopeless, and certainly thankless, from the start...

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