The New Syria Peace Envoy’s Bloody Background
Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi has accepted the position of Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and League of Arab States for Syria, replacing former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan whose six-point peace plan is dead. The United Nations spokesman announcing the appointment said that the “Secretary-General appreciates Mr. Brahimi’s willingness to bring his considerable talents and experience to this crucial task for which he will need, and rightly expects, the strong, clear and unified support of the international community, including the Security Council.”
Brahimi, who is 78 years old, is expected to assume his duties following the expiration of Annan’s mandate on August 31, 2012. “I might very well fail but we sometimes are lucky and we can get a breakthrough,” Brahimi told the BBC in an interview.
Describing the violence in Syria as “absolutely terrible,” Brahimi told Reuters he urgently needed to clarify what support the United Nations can give him and said it was too soon to say whether Assad should step down.
The Syrian government welcomed Brahimi’s appointment. The opposition to the regime has doubts, however, whether it will mean anything. A Syrian opposition leader, Haitham al-Malehhas, predicted that Brahimi will be no more successful than Annan was in finding a way to quell the violence. “The same way the Syrian regime caused the Arab monitors mission, international monitors delegation and Kofi Annan’s initiative to fail, they will cause the failure of Lakhdar Brahimi,” he said.
Brahimi has received high marks from the United Nations in the past for his mediation work in various hotspots, including helping to negotiate the end of Lebanon’s civil war, which his backers, including the Obama administration, hope will be repeated in Syria. He has served the United Nations in various high-level roles over the past two decades, including heading the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and serving In Iraq during the post-Saddam Hussein transition period. As an Algerian diplomat and foreign minister, Brahimi also served with the League of Arab States from 1984 to 1991.
The New York Times described Brahimi as a “widely respected statesman.” However, as impressive as some of Brahimi’s diplomatic accomplishments might appear on paper, a closer examination reveals some disturbing facts about his record.
From 1956 to 1961, during Algeria’s independence struggle against France, Brahimi started out his political career as the socialist National Liberation Front (FLN) representative in South-East Asia, resident in Jakarta, Indonesia. It is estimated that at least 70,000 Muslim civilians were killed or abducted and presumed killed by the FLN during the war for independence and more than 30,000 pro-French Muslims were allegedly killed in Algeria by the FLN in post-war reprisals. Brahimi remained a member of the FLN following Algeria’s independence and began his rise through the diplomatic ranks.
When the Algerian military staged a coup in January 1992, Brahimi was Algeria’s foreign minister. The FLN party, fearing the loss of power to a democratically elected Islamic party, cancelled the elections after the first round. In his role as foreign minister, Brahimi sought to rationalize to the outside world the reasons for the coup, glossing over the atrocities during the civil war that followed the suspension of democracy in the country. Human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, reported frequent government use of torture and holding of suspects without charge or trial. More than 100,000 lives were lost during the civil war, which Brahimi’s FLN instigated, with the backing of the military, by cancelling the elections.
Is this really the kind of experience that instills confidence in Brahimi’s ability to broker a peace accord in Syria and its transition to democracy?
Brahimi’s supporters point to his diplomatic efforts in Lebanon, where he was given credit for helping to broker the end of the decades-long Lebanese civil war. Brahimi boasted in September 1989 that “we clinched a cease-fire,” leading to the Taif Agreement (also known as the “National Reconciliation Accord”) that supposedly ended the 15-year conflict. “These kinds of satisfactions are the things that one works for,” Brahimi declared.
The only problem with this rosy picture of peace in Lebanon is that the Taif Agreement in actuality planted the seeds for more serious problems to come in that troubled country. Most notably, the agreement ended up ratifying Syria’s occupation of parts of Syria for a period of time and called for the disarming of all militia except Hezbollah, which was accorded a waiver on the grounds that it was a “resistance force” against Israel. Hezbollah today is a dominant force in the Lebanese government and a key supporter of the Assad regime.
This isn’t the first time that Brahimi has served as the United Nations special representative to a hotspot with questionable results. He served in that capacity in Iraq during the formation of the Interim Iraqi Government, which was established in June 2004 after extensive negotiations. He sympathized with the insurgents in Iraq, who were killing innocent civilians as well as targeting American troops.
“I think it’s a little bit too easy to call everybody a terrorist,” he explained. Alluding to the role of the U.S. administrator in Iraq at the time, Paul Bremer, Brahimi called him a “dictator.” Brahimi ended up resigning his post in frustration, much as his mentor Kofi Annan just did with respect to the position that Brahimi is now taking over for Syria.
Aside from these disturbing details regarding Brahimi’s supposedly illustrious diplomatic career, he has made some alarming remarks about terrorism and Israel.
During a 2005 interview at Berkley, Brahimi said:
If you are talking about terrorism, you need to sit down and understand what is making these people put dynamite around their waists and blow themselves up. Because they are Muslims, because they are stupid, because they want to go to paradise? Maybe some do, but I think most of them have other motivations.
One such motivation appears to be what Brahimi called the “Israeli policy of domination and the suffering imposed on the Palestinians,” which Brahimi told French radio in 2004 was “the great poison in the region.” He went on to condemn “the equally unjust support…of the United States for this policy.”
Brahimi amplified his attack on Israel in an ABC television interview with George Stephanopoulos a few days later: “I think there is unanimity in the Arab world, and indeed in much of the rest of the world, that the Israeli policy is wrong, that the Israeli policy is brutal, repressive, and that they are not interested in peace no matter what you seem to believe in America.”
The feckless Kofi Annan was bad enough as the joint UN-Arab League peace envoy in Syria. Lakhdar Brahimi, his successor, is even worse. He brings to the table a checkered career in which he rationalized the kind of brutal repression in his own country of Algeria that Assad is displaying in Syria, and in which he enabled Syria and Hezbollah to strengthen their stranglehold in Lebanon under the phony National Reconciliation Accord that he helped mediate.
In sum, Brahimi is not a man of peace or true reconciliation, as further evidenced by his ambivalence about terrorism and his incendiary rhetoric against Israel. Yet – no surprise - the Obama administration supports Brahimi 100 percent for his new position.
Joseph Klein is a Harvard-trained lawyer and the author of Global Deception: The UN’s Stealth Assault on America’s Freedom and the new book, Lethal Engagement: Barack Hussein Obama, the United Nations & Radical Islam.