Can a New Special Envoy Move Syria Diplomacy?

Last Friday, word leaked that former Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi may succeed Kofi Annan as the joint UN/Arab League envoy for Syria. Brahimi is a well respected international trouble shooter.  In 2003, Brahimi lead the international effort to form a post-Taliban political consensus for Afghanistan, which improbably brought together the USA, Iran, Pakistan, India and various Afghan factions.

It is still unclear weather or not Brahimi has accepted the job; or even if Syria would agree to his role as a mediator. But even if he accepts and is accepted, his mission will be more than just difficult — it is impossible. Kofi Annan failed as Syrian envoy because he was never given the tools to succeed. His plan was never backed in any meaningful way by Russia which was the only player that could have coerced and cajoled Bashar Al Assad into acquiescence.  That fundamental dynamic has not shifted.

At this point, it is hard to see what difference a new envoy would make.  From the NYT:

“It is clear that violence is increasing in many parts of Syria,” said General Babacar Gaye, the head of the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria, noting that fighting had forced United Nations observers to leave Aleppo.

“The indiscriminate use of heavy weapons by the government and targeted attacks by the opposition in urban centers are inflicting a heavy toll on innocent civilians,” he said.

General Gaye strongly condemned the government of President Bashar al-Assad for using heavy weapons, which now include jets firing on at least three cities, according to rebels. And he urged Mr. Assad’s government to trade its military mind-set for “a mind-set of dialogue.”

That seemed unlikely anytime soon. On Monday, fighting continued in at least a half-dozen areas, with fierce battles raging in Aleppo, as clashes and shelling in  Damascus coincided with what the activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described as a “large-scale raid” throughout the capital by Syrian troops who detained at least 21 people.

It appears that we are far past the point where diplomats as skilled as Brahimi or Annan can engineer anything short of a horribly violent ending to this conflict.