Poor substitute

Diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi speaks with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter (not pictured) during a joint news conference in Khartoum in this May 27, 2012 file photo. (REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)

The less time spent discussing the news that a replacement for Kofi Annan is going to be made, the better.

But for now, the media will be obliged to deal with the news that Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi is being considered for the post, and then likely cover the official announcement of the appointment.

The “news,” as such, boils down to this: Annan’s mandate as the United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria will elapse on the 20th of this month, so if Brahimi is actually selected, he will only serve for a short interval – much more pressing is the question of whether the post itself is renewed.

The move to actually consider appointing a successor to Annan appears to be designed to appease Moscow, and it’s another sign of the failure of the U.N. and the international community. The world’s leading powers are searching for a way to avoid coming up with a solution, if asking Brahimi to step in is what’s on the table.

People will inevitably use shorthand to refer to Brahimi as a veteran diplomat, with a track record of being selected to handle various “hot spots,” such as Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan, for example. But would a special envoy ever be named to a place that isn’t a hot spot?

In fact, Brahimi’s record is one of disappointment. He’s the perfect public servant, as he is adept in standing before microphones and making upbeat statements that usually bear little relation to reality.

He has never been particularly creative or energetic in his missions, instead preferring to tell each side what it wants to hear, as his shuttle trips continue, along with the crisis in question.

The Lebanese have their own special memory of Brahimi during the final phases of the Civil War. He had excellent contacts with all sides, and spent his time shuttling between East and West Beirut, never managing to bring about the elusive cease-fire. The Taif Accord was not a Brahimi initiative; he was just the messenger for the arrangement that finally ended the war.

If experience in moving from one waste of time to another is the qualification for continuing Annan’s mission in Syria, Brahimi is perfectly suited for the job.

Annan’s mission died because every side’s stance was well known, and held no hope of a solution for the Syrian crisis. Since the U.N. envoy was named, several thousand people have been killed, and the Syrian public has become certain that the U.N. does not intend to take any serious action to end the bloodshed.

Neither side should welcome Brahimi, if he is tasked with picking up where Annan left off, unless someone, somewhere, makes it clear that the international community believes the crisis in Syria must be solved, and immediately. Otherwise, Brahimi will only have a rising body count to remember from his tenure.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 11, 2012, on page 7.




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