The United Nations and the Arab League recently added a new layer of trouble to the agony and dangers of the Middle East by appointing as their joint special envoy to Syria none other than former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The charitable view: Annan’s appointment represented the triumph of amnesia over experience. During the heyday of Annan’s signature UN scandal — the Oil-for-Food program for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq — I spent a lot of time trying to figure out whether Annan was corrupt or simply incompetent and indifferent to his own failures. Given the staggering dimensions of the graft-permeated, multi-billion dollar trainwreck of the Iraq relief program for which Annan was the chief administrator, there was really no third way, apart from perhaps some mix of crookedness and ineptitude. And given that the UN’s own “independent inquiry” into the program reported finding no evidence of corrupt dealings by Annan, we must consider him officially exonerated on that front; this leaves the conclusion that he was long ago promoted far beyond his real level of competence. Indeed, the UN’s own probe reached findings that he had done a lousy job: he had failed to provide “adequate oversight” of his handpicked staff; he had failed to ensure the basic aims of the sanctions on Iraq; and his performance “fell short of the standards that the United Nations Organization should strive to maintain.”
The less generous explanation of the current UN-Arab League choice of Annan as envoy is that no one really expected him to produce a decent resolution in Syria. One has to wonder if the aim was to be seen as doing something, while buying time for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to slam a lid back on the heaving dissent imperiling his regime.
Annan has a terrible record when it comes to dealing with crises. For some specifics, here’s a link to my recent article, co-authored with Jonathan Schanzer, for The New Republic: “It’s Time to Add Syria to Kofi Annan’s List of Failures.” In a neat summing up of Annan’s efforts to date, the Washington Post editorialized on Monday that “Mr. Annan and his backers have merely provided cover for Mr. Assad to go on slaughtering his own people.”
And, sorry to report, but for the next stage of his mission, having visited with Assad and called in at Beijing and Moscow, Annan is reportedly planning this Wednesday to drop in on Tehran. Watch out. Iran’s regime, along with its usual terrorist and illicit nuclear ventures, has been abetting Assad’s efforts to murder Syrians back into submission. And, hit by tightening U.S. and European sanctions, Iran’s regime is also looking for ways to buy time on its own account, for its bomb program and its evolving schemes for ducking sanctions.
So what will Annan do while in Tehran? What might he offer his hosts? He’s been coy. But there are a few things we do know. It’s clear that Iran’s rulers are looking forward to his visit. Iranian news services began announcing it while Annan himself was still denying plans to go there. Since Annan’s UN-loaned spokesman confirmed that he has an appointment with Tehran, Iranian media outlets have been enthusing about his impending visit — here’s Iran’s “independent” Fars News Agency account stressing “Iran’s support for Annan’s peace plan.” Here’s the Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA, sounding a similar note.
Why would Iran’s rulers be so pleased to welcome Kofi Annan? No doubt they are familiar with his record generally of finding ways to do business with dictators, as he did with Saddam and has just been doing with Assad. But on the Iranian front, there are details especially worth recalling. Here’s a photo of Annan shaking hands in 2000 with Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Iran’s client terrorist group Hezbollah, thanking him for maintaining peace in southern Lebanon. Here is Annan welcoming Iran’s foreign minister in 2006 to attend the inaugural session of the newly “reformed” UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where Annan opined that Iran was taking “very seriously” the offered incentives to back away from its nuclear program. (So much for that).
And here is one more incident from Annan’s final year as secretary general in 2006, shortly after the UN Security Council had passed a resolution putting Tehran on notice that unless Iran stopped enriching uranium, UN sanctions would follow. Iran replied not with compliance, but with threats. Right around that time, Annan visited Tehran. Soon afterward, during the UN General Assembly opening in New York, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — then visiting New York — told reporters at a press conference that Annan had told him to ignore the Security Council resolution: “The secretary general told me to disregard what has happened for the time being, resort to diplomacy.” A spokesman for Annan denied this, saying Annan “did not tell Iran to disregard” the Security Council resolution.
Who was telling the truth, Ahmadinejad or Annan? Tough call. But here we are, six years later. Syria’s dictator is striving to keep his bloody grip on power. Hezbollah, having already provoked a war with Israel in 2006, sits atop a vastly enhanced arsenal in Lebanon. Iran’s regime, demonstrably linked to al-Qaeda (among its kennel of terror mascots), is closing in on nuclear weapons. And here comes UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, jetting once again to Tehran to broker … what do we call it these days? Peace?