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Opinion: Librahimi’s Superficial Pragmatism

Librahimi’s efforts in Iraq in the middle of last decade and in Afghanistan did not shift away from this approach, and the results in Iraq and Lebanon are there for all to see
Opinion: Librahimi’s Superficial Pragmatism

Arab-UN Envoy Lakhdar Librahimi provokes recurring anger among the sides involved in civil war in Syria.


The media outlets keep attributing to the man conflicting statements that require clarifications from him and his aides. At times, he criticizes Bashar al-Assad and his apparatuses’ violence to the point where it is said that Brahimi is persona non grata in Damascus. But the next day, he provokes the wrath of the Syrian opposition, which believes that he has become the regime’s spokesman and is promoting Al-Assad’s stay in his post for an unlimited period of time.


The one-year (and a few months) period spent by Brahimi in his position after his predecessor Kofi Annan stepped down, was a living example of the diplomatic school to which the former Algerian foreign minister belongs. And accusing Brahimi of being biased in favor of this or that side practically disregards the cultural and professional background from which he comes.


Indeed, one should go back to the man’s experience in conflict-resolution diplomacy. Despite the long list of conflicts he was dispatched to seek solutions for, one can say he adopted a single approach in dealing with all of them. His approach relies on a middle ground solution among the various components that lean in most cases on their sectarian or tribal identity, in a way reflecting the balance of powers at the moment of the agreement, under an international and regional sponsorship that proceeds without any guarantees.


This, in short, is what he accomplished in Lebanon through his work in the context of the Arab committee that drew up the 1989 Taif Accord. At the time, the accord reflected the solid Syrian-Muslim alliance in the face of the dismantlement of the Christian camp that was abandoned by the West, thus implicitly transferring the largest part of the Christian president of the republic’s prerogatives to the Cabinet and his Muslim Sunni prime minister. The Taif Accord earned a wide Arab and international cover, which imposed its implementation on its detractors following the toppling of the military government’s Prime Minister Michel Aoun by force.


Also, Librahimi’s efforts in Iraq in the middle of last decade – in light of the attempts to draw up a new constitution – and in Afghanistan did not shift away from this approach, and the results in Iraq and Lebanon are there for all to see.


The Arab-UN envoy is neither seeking new agreements nor trying to change the representation map of the social forces or endorse their sensitivities, interests, and aspirations. His experience reveals he wants to secure a settlement that would end the bloodshed and destruction during the current stage, without any concern for the foundations on which this settlement is based. Hence, the resumption of the conflicts – as it is happening in Lebanon and Iraq for example – is outside his scope of work, which is limited to the current moment. This would explain the changing of his announced positions based on the changes affecting the balances of power politically and on the field, inside and outside of Syria.


Therefore, finding a formula for the sustainment of the regime is not due to Brahimi’s bias in favor of Al-Assad as claimed by the opposition’s spokespersons, just like his harsh criticisms towards the rule in Damascus during previous stages. The envoy merely conveyed the transformations he detected in the past weeks along the course of events, in light of the opposition’s inability to achieve any strategic, military or political progress and its loss in the mazes of conflicts and contradicting loyalties, at a time when the regime’s image witnessed great improvement after it surrendered its chemical weapons and in light of the international community’s willingness to seal a deal with it.


Yes, this vision does not feature any position in support of the Syrians’ right to choose a different regime that is more evolved on the representational and democratic levels than Al-Assad’s. However, it definitely reflects a pragmatic understanding – a rather simple and superficial perception of pragmatism – wishing to secure a quick end to the fighting at whichever cost, even if through a truce agreement paving the way for future calamities.


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