The world is learning hard lessons in Syria. The United States has already admitted that the mission of U.N. and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan is likely to fail, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week that Washington is preparing to take other measures against Bashar al-Assad's regime. She pointed out what is clear to all: U.N. observers cannot operate effectively while Assad refuses to abide by a ceasefire.
Let's be clear about why Annan's mission has been unsuccessful. It is not failing because the U.N. observers have been slow to deploy, or even because Assad has yet to implement a single point from Annan's six-point plan. The fundamental reason for Annan's failure is more basic than that: His plan is flawed because it was formulated on the misguided belief that the Assad regime will ever stop using violence against domestic protesters and negotiate with them in good faith.
It is high time to debunk once and for all the popular myths about the Syrian regime. People have believed for too long -- whether out of naïveté or cynicism -- that Assad has been willing to initiate political reforms and will do so in due time. He has not and will not. Nor will the regime stop its violence. Doing so would hasten its demise, as Syrians took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands to protest freely and assume control of large parts of the country.
Syrian dissidents can't escape their memories of the violence they fled.
And yet, the world still clings to the hope that the Annan plan will somehow bring an end to the violence. It seems that we have lost our moral compass, unrealistically hoping that Annan will succeed -- and largely doing so because we are too timid to contemplate seriously other options to assist the Syrian people.
Assad's behavior during the 14-month long uprising shows that he has never seriously considered a "fundamental change of course," as Annan has demanded. Instead, Assad has sought to solve his problems through intimidation and brute force. The estimated death toll of more than 11,000 Syrians since the beginning of the uprising serves as a bloody testament to that fact.
Annan's plan relies on the hope that Assad will negotiate in good faith, perhaps under pressure from his Russian backers. He will not, and the regime will not accept any credible opposition to its rule -- regardless of Moscow's preferences. The regime's war crimes -- including the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, the forced displacement of civilians from cities, and the sanctioning of a mass campaign of rape against women by security forces, including paramilitary shabiha brigades -- speak for themselves. While the international community continues to focus on Annan's efforts, it is unbelievable that Assad and his regime are still not seen as international pariahs. The Syrian government has lied to the international community at every turn. When will the world realize that any attempt to negotiate with Assad is utterly futile?
The Assad regime has so far successfully employed a strategy of buying time, agreeing to the Annan plan while doing everything it can to undermine it. Meanwhile, the international community has played into Assad's hands by buying into the fanciful logic that the introduction of unarmed U.N. observers will establish calm inside Syria and moderate the regime's behavior. Indeed, it was only a few short weeks ago that French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé declared that the Annan mission was "our last chance to avoid civil war." In a rare moment of clarity, the head of the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, admitted that not even 1,000 observers could end the bloodshed.