Skip to main content

Annan's deal is al-Assad's last chance

By Ed Husain, Special to CNN
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Wed March 28, 2012
A man runs carrying a toddler as children weep during fighting in the Bab Tudmor neighborhood of the city of Homs in February
A man runs carrying a toddler as children weep during fighting in the Bab Tudmor neighborhood of the city of Homs in February
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ed Husain says Kofi Annan's deal with Syria's government is a new chance for regime
  • He says the plan to stop violence, allow humanitarian aid and more, is correct, crucial
  • He says al-Assad isn't trustworthy, but if pact fails his chance at avoiding world response is slim
  • Husain: Syrian government must stand down, opposition must unite to form credible alternative

Editor's note: Ed Husain is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "The Islamist." He can be followed on Twitter via @Ed_Husain

(CNN) -- Once again, Syria is at a crossroads. Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan deserves applause for brokering a ceasefire in a conflict where others have failed, and where some have been only too ready to press military buttons. Despite the seeming success of diplomacy, the conflict in Syria is far from over. This is only a new beginning.

Make no mistake: Annan's mission was not accepted by the regime in Damascus because they were instinctively in line with his thinking. Annan was embraced by the Chinese, Russians, and Syrians because he had come conveniently after the brutal killings in Hama and Homs. It was more timing than principle. If Annan had come while parts of Homs and Hama were under rebel control, then President Bashar al-Assad and his backers would have rejected the U.N. mission. Now that al-Assad has regained territory from the opposition, he is keen to be seen as a peacemaker.

Ed Husain
Ed Husain

Annan's proposals are ambitious, morally right, and urgently needed. From the need for a political process where opposition elements and the regime are in direct talks, to troop withdrawals, to providing humanitarian assistance, to releasing those arbitrarily detained and allowing free media access to respecting the freedom to protest peacefully. But al-Assad violated all of these principles previously, so why would he behave any differently now?

His calculation must be altered to realize that the fear that he and his father, Hafez al-Assad, had instilled in the hearts of many Syrians is now gone. Suppressing popular protests with tanks cannot be repeated constantly with impunity, particularly after the U.S. presidential elections. The political will of the occupant of the White House next January could be stronger on intervening in Syria.

It is a question of time before the conflict in Syria flares up again. Annan and the countries involved will only contain, mitigate and offset the parties for a limited time while the opposition regroups. Too much blood has been spilled, too many wounds are open to pretend that violence will not resume again. (Indeed, there were reports after the agreement was reached that violence had resumed in several areas of the country, where government troops were accused of shelling and burning homes, killing dozens.)

While Annan's mission hopes to bring all sides to the table, the Syrian government and opposition cannot risk the continuing escalation of violence.

The answers to the conflict in Syria do not come from outside intervention, but from inside Syria's opposition movement. Those within the opposition who have opted for violence must immediately return to nonviolence. The lesson of this last year is that the al-Assad regime will meet opposition violence with a disproportionate response and fight to the death. With no coherent leadership, with deep disunity and no real vision for a new Syria, the opposition is fighting for an empty cause. It is more productive in the long term, therefore, that it uses the hiatus provided by Annan to peacefully mobilize the masses inside Damascus and Aleppo, publish a manifesto that gains purchase from minority Syrians that sectarian violence will not rise in a post-Assad Syria, and bring on board the major religious, tribal and business figures inside country.

Such measures will help build confidence among noninterventionists in the West, and will result in defections from the military and diplomatic top brass in al-Assad's government. Failure to do the hard work at the grass-roots level inside Syria while demanding Western military support would be both naïve and dangerous.

Conversely, the regime knows its days are numbered. It cannot butcher dissidents in Hama and Homs and expect to rule the country without introducing serious, substantial reforms. The constitutional referendum last month was held in haste to address the demand for this very thing. Not only does al-Assad need to win over the opposition's more pragmatic actors, but it must demonstrate adherence to Annan's plan.

But knowing the conniving and deceptive nature of this regime, I do not believe it will sincerely adhere to the letter and spirit of the Annan proposals. Annan may well prove to be al-Assad's last gamble. If he flunks this opportunity to allow for the six-point plan to demonstrably materialize, then it will be nigh impossible to stop Western firepower from pounding his presidential palace, apartments in Mezzeh, military barracks and bases in the Alawite mountains in Lattakia, Tartous and elsewhere.

For his own sake, for the sake of his family and countrymen, al-Assad must deliver. Annan is his last warning, and last chance.

He would be well advised to accept the invitations from Doha and Tunis to go into exile, save himself and his family from further danger, and rescue Syria from the increased risk of all-out civil war. The onus is on al-Assad, as much as it is on the opposition to illustrate that it can unite and offer a credible alternative to him.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Husain.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT