Increasing omens of a civil war erupting in Syria are being accompanied by a combination of "escaping forward," avoiding a "Plan B" and burying heads in the sand -- with regard to what a civil war might result in if it were to occur. The timeframe which Security Council members have in mind revolves around the plan of the joint UN-AL Envoy Kofi Annan and the mandate of the UN delegation of monitors ratified by the Security Council, which expires on July 21st.
Everyone is in trouble in one way or another. Security Council members are in trouble because they have been hiding behind Annan's plan and their "consensus" that has now become a decisive drive, as division has prevailed and resulted in a dual veto by Russia and China, twice so far. They are in trouble because they are afraid to think of a "Plan B," despite the fact that several of the members of the Council are entirely convinced that the regime in Damascus will not fulfill its pledges, and will not engage in a political process that would lead to pluralism, to replace the Baath Party's stranglehold over power. The Syrian regime in turn is in trouble because -- regardless of how arrogantly it behaves, leaving the impression that it is convinced that it will remain in power without making concessions -- it realizes that a Syrian civil war would ultimately remove it from power. The Syrian opposition is in trouble because it is in a state of fragmentation and division, especially when the issue of civil war is discussed, and does not seem to be ready with a "Plan B" in the case of the current situation remaining unchanged, or if Kofi Annan's plan collapses. When opposition leaders meet under the sponsorship of the League of Arab States next week, they will not find cohesion in the stances of the Arab League, which in turn is in trouble because it does not want to bear responsibility in the case of a civil war erupting, and does not want to think of a "Plan B," because that is one hot potato it prefers to throw to Kofi Annan and the international community. As for the major leaders of the international community, they will be "escaping forward," or will try to anyway, at their important meetings over the next two weeks in the United States -- the G8 and NATO summits -- while being hounded by the current situation in Syria, which entails regional dimensions that burying heads in the sand will not help avoid.
The nearest discussion of "Plan B" scenarios revolves around Turkey thinking of putting forward Article 5 before the gathering of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) in Chicago on the 20th and 21st of this month in order to obtain some support for either "safe corridors" or military operations, on the basis of its own security being threatened at its border with Syria. Turkey might not obtain outright support from its NATO allies, but it will pave the way in Chicago for such a possibility. This does not mean that NATO countries will be waging war, by air or by land, through Turkey in Syria. Rather, it means that Turkey could receive the cover it seeks from the North Atlantic Alliance, after having reached the conclusion that there was absolutely no way to issue a Security Council resolution that would grant the authority to establish such corridors. To be sure, Russia and China have made it clear that their bilateral relationship was a strategic one all the way, and that they are in the same trench with regard to the situation in Syria, regardless of what change might occur here or whose anger might be aroused there. They have resolved to support the regime in Damascus and to consider Kofi Annan's plan to be the roadmap for resolving the situation in Syria, on the basis of their own interpretation of this plan, including the fact that it does not at all mean changing the regime.
Ankara is well aware of the fact that the priority of consensus at the Security Council has done away with any possibility of issuing a resolution "with teeth" -- whether in terms of imposing sanctions against the regime in Syria or in terms of establishing safe corridors, even for humanitarian ends. It is currently in a state of quasi-enmity at the state level with Damascus. What weakens its stance is the leadership of the ruling party -- headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan -- of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political parties. Indeed, Ankara had succeeded, temporarily, at convincing the West that it should not fear the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power. And then came the experience of Egypt -- and with it those of the other Arab countries which the Arab Spring has undergone -- to pour cold water on the enthusiasm of the West and the world. This experience has radically contributed to helping the ruling regime in Syria, in addition to strengthening Russia's fears of the rise of Islamists to power.
What is worth observing over the next two weeks will be the "charm" displayed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the face of similar "charm" displayed by Vladimir Putin, nicknamed "Putin the Tsar" in the wake of being crowned President of Russia -- most probably for the next 12 years. Neither of them is famous for his charisma, but they are both violent in their persistence and their insistence on winning and emerging victorious. The battle between the two concerning Syria is noteworthy not just in terms of their personalities, but also in terms of the conflicting, contrasting and overlapping stances taken by Russia and Turkey vis-à-vis Iran. Additionally, the stances of both men on Iran include the important aspect of their relations with the Arab Gulf states, and in particular with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has made it clear that it considers the situation in Syria to represent the linchpin within the framework of its relations with the Islamic Republic in Tehran.
What Vladimir Putin will achieve, or avoid, at the G8 summit in Camp David on the 18th and 19th of this month will race against what Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has in mind to achieve in Chicago at the NATO summit on the next day. Damascus is wagering on its friend and ally and on his might, at a time when U.S. President Barack Obama is in need of a "break" or a "time out" until the end of the American presidential elections. Indeed, it classifies Erdoğan's Turkey as its enemy and wishes for it to fail in every way in Chicago. It interprets the indications permeating international relations as focused on giving priority to the economy and to forging bilateral relations after -- or shortly before -- the different elections that are yet to take place. It also considers Kofi Annan to have become the chief decision-maker, either in terms of moving forward with giving priority to international consensus, or in terms of thwarting any thoughts of a "Plan B."
Kofi Annan has become the chief decision-maker within the Security Council, not outside of it. This is why we have seen the start of a movement towards -- and consideration of -- a "Plan B" through a coalition that would not be subjected to the formula of "consensus," which absolutely requires the agreement of Russia and China over any next step. Kofi Annan is exerting the utmost effort to ensure the implementation of his six-point plan, which represents a good roadmap to prevent the eruption of a civil war in Syria, provided that it is implemented. The flaw does not lie in the plan itself, but rather in leaping over the fact that the Syrian authorities are refusing to implement the plan as Kofi Annan has envisioned it. The question should not be focused on the failure of the plan or the failure of Kofi Annan. The real question must focus on who is thwarting the plan by holding them accountable, not leaping over their violations out of concern for the survival of the plan itself. Indeed, an approach such as this will certainly lead to undermining the six-point plan, including the breakthrough represented in putting a stop to the violence and that of the transitional political process -- as stated in the text of the decision to appoint Kofi Annan as joint envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States.
The notion Western countries have of such a political process is that it will lead to a process of transition from the ruling party's monopoly of power to democratic pluralism that would logically result in Assad stepping down, and in changing the regime in Damascus. The notion Russia and China have of it is that the political process between Syria's government and its opposition does not at all represent a way to bring President Bashar al Assad to step down and to change the regime. Rather, it is a "process" that could lead to a few reforms that would be accepted, or submitted to, by the legitimate Syrian government, which holds authority and sovereignty in Syria. As for Kofi Annan, he is moving across a cloud of purposeful obscurity because he views himself as the mediator between the government and the opposition, and not as the executor of the decision by the League of Arab States to launch a process of transition of power in Syria.
What Kofi Annan and his team should think of is the need to distinguish between the failure of the plan and the failure of the man on the one hand, and the thwarting of the six points stated in the man's plan on the other. There is no need to behave defensively, nor any need to appear as one who rejects any criticism, in such an excessive and antagonistic way towards those who issue such criticism. Such behavior only undermines the dignity of the mandate entrusted to the UN-AL Envoy. To be clear, this mandate is not meant to repair international relations and give consensus at the Security Council priority. This mandate is first and foremost meant for Syria and its fate.
No one is demanding that Kofi Annan put forward a "Plan B." He is the man behind "Plan A," and has the right to defend it and warn that thwarting it will lead to a civil war and to terrifying repercussions in the whole region. What should be paid heed to here is the fact that Kofi Annan will represent the "trigger" for thinking among the ranks of Security Council members about a "Plan B." The ambassador of an Arab country and a non-permanent member of the Security Council said it frankly: if Kofi Annan does not say that his plan has not led to any results and that it is time to stop it, we will not be able for our part to enter into a confrontation with Kofi Annan, unless we decide to take the issue out of the UN Security Council. The problem, as the ambassador himself admits, is that everyone is evading "Plan B," although the majority is convinced that Annan's plan has become a "bad joke" and that it would be better to "stop it." The reason for this is that "Assad does not want to negotiate, and does not want a political process", as he is convinced that "he can win and stay in power through military means, and does not need to hold negotiations" with the opposition.
Certainly the leaders of the G8 countries are aware of this, and so are the leaderships of the countries affiliated with the North Atlantic Alliance. They might not have in mind today to admit that the failure of Kofi Annan's plan will not occur because of the man and his plan, but rather as a result of the nature of the regime in Damascus, but they will certainly have to address the "moment of truth" as the deadline for thinking of a "Plan B," on July 21st, draws near. It is the moment of confronting oneself and admitting that the choice now lies between having the boldness to think of a "Plan B" to save Syria from civil war, and continuing to bury one's head in the sand while the clouds portend more storms.
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