Published on 8 Oct 2012

Kofi Annan's dire warning on Syria

Last night I interviewed Kofi Annan live onstage at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the Southbank. The place was packed – some six hundred people were present.

I was ostensibly talking to the former UN Secretary General about his aptly titled book, ‘Interventions’. Annan arrived on deck in the senior echelons of the UN as head of UN peace keeping just as Messrs Blair and Bush developed their passion for intervention.

Mr Annan is subtle in his observations – but the Iraq war and his opposition to it from the very outset, have left a deep scar on his public life. It is inescapable in the pages of his book, and inescapable when one comes to interview him.

He doesn’t go as far as Desmond Tutu in calling for Blair’s prosecution but he is still clear that the War was completely illegal. He adds separately that the UN resolution safeguarding civilians in Libya was illegally stretched to embrace regime change.

So here we are in Syria in a vile vortex that has sucked every crazed gunman across the North African and Muslim world into a maelstrom of bloodletting. Annan maybe reluctant to name names but he is clear from his own experience that the so-called rebel cause has attracted armed groups and individuals from Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and most critically, Iraq.

One external name he conjures is that of Saudi Arabia. He talked of how the West turns a blind eye to the export of Islamic extremism in the interests of vastly profitable trade and defence deals.

Our own films from the French photojournalist Mani, have demonstrated how locals in Syrian towns with no love for Assad, yet loath the presence of these foreign ‘madmen’.

Last night, Mr Annan declared that the ‘Assad regime, will not be defeated militarily’. He also added that the rebels would not be defeated either.

Thus, facilitated by the abuse of UN process, deliberate neglect of the will of the United Nations, the Western Powers have unwittingly contributed to the most explosive cauldron of hatred, lawlessness, fanaticism, and criminality now burning in the most tender region on earth.

In its path Kurdish nationalism, the war between Sunni and Shia Islam, and the forever unresolved crisis between Israel and her Arab neighbours.

Last night Kofi Annan criticised both the reporting and the wider political understandings of the conflict in Syria. He went so far as to praise Russia and China for blocking (3 months ago) Western efforts to internationalise the crisis.

It is rare to hear such candour from one who has held such high office. I left feeling that we owe it to our children and our grandchildren to try to understand what is happening in Syria and to deploy every sinew to try address those factors over which we have some control.

As for the reporting, the truth is – as the death toll of journalists describes – that it is vastly dangerous to get anywhere near the violent truths that rampage on all the assorted ‘sides’.

As Mr Annan observed, there is no option for international military action in Syria. In the meantime the fast lashing up of a Kurdish state – uniting the Kurds of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and now Syria to the dismay and violent military opposition of all four of those countries looms.

The break-up of Syria itself into Alawite and zealous Sunni quadrants beckons. No one believes a united Lebanon would remain untouched, and don’t begin to mention the effect on Israel/Palestine.

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15 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    “…the Western Powers have unwittingly contributed…”?

    What nonsense.

    It is about as “unwitting” as the invasions and mass murders of innocent civilians in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. The only difference is this time the Americans and Europeans have engaged the willing services of proxy powers in the region. And while the invasion of Syria has been going on….not a word on the horrors being perpetrated in Saudi Arabia’s invasion of Bahrain and in their own Eastern Province, both of which I warned you about at the very beginning of the so-called “Arab Spring.” I am willing to bet Kofi Annan knows all of this very well, hence his sense of impotence.

    Where Britain is concerned, Blair and his crew are the obvious war criminals. But don’t leave out all the other politicians, CamClegg included, who went along with the disgusting, murder business.

    And what of the propaganda culpability of C4 News? The “reports” of Hilsum, Rugman and Miller were an utter disgrace. Don’t kid yourself.

  2. Moonbeach says:

    It is time for us to review parliamentary democracy because the term has now become an oxymoron! How many of us have always had the same view as Kofi Annan and Desmond Tutu. Parliament clearly ignores the wishes of the majority of the UK electorate on a whole range of things.

    Other than UKIP, no serious party is advocating a withdrawal from the undemocratic EU. The majority view on overseas wars, immigration, criminal bankers and politicians, gay marriage, capital punishment, benefits cheats, human rights legislation and the joke of the International Court at the Hague and its effect on the deportation of illegal aliens and so on are completely ignored.

    In addition, we are reaching the stage where those who contribute most cash to the Exchequer are in a minority when it comes to deciding how that cash is dispersed.

    The proof of this is in the number of people who tell pollsters that they support Messrs Milliband and Balls; the architects of spending massive amounts of money that you do not have. The posh boys of Cameron, Clegg and Co are not doing much better because they are frightened to follow the majority views and prefer their own!

    Jon, a number of us of all political hues have become frustrated at the antics of our ‘ betters’ and their disgraceful behaviour; Chief constables, fraudulent politicians, greedy bankers, tax exiles, incompetent civil servants and so on.

    It is time that people like the idiot Blair, Flashman Cameron and the boy Clegg were held to account by us, the people. This will never happen whilst we have parliamentary democracy.


    1. Philip says:

      And the alternative is what? You may believe your views are 100% right, but maybe – just maybe – they don’t coincide woith those of the majority of the other citizens of the UK? So who is to decide? Are there some philosopher kings who can descend and give all the right answers which the rest of us mere mortals are unable to see because of our blind prejudice and/or being hoodwinked by a compliant media and lying politicians? The alternative to democracy is facism & dictatorship, the rule of some who believe their views are right over the majority. If you don’t agree with current policies & politicians, you can do what the majority seem to believe in – vote for the party you believe will change things. Or put forward a different approach & see if people will vote for it.

  3. adrian clarke says:

    If Annan believes the war was illegal,it is his DUTY as a former high ranking statesman to report the matter not only to the UN but to legal authorities who can investigate the claim

    1. Mandeep says:

      He did so….but they didn’t listen to him. He didn’t hold as much ‘power’ and ‘authority’ as we may think, unfortunately.

  4. Paul Smyth says:

    Nice to see someone reporting a more balanced remark on the role of Russia and China. Their ‘bad guy’ reputation regarding Syria is far too simplistic. The West’s fixation with removing Assad (above achieving peace in Syria) is illogical, myopic and has made a bad situation worse.

  5. Y.S. says:

    The west cant get too involved in Syria because Israel has plans for Iran, everyone is waiting to see what happens there first.
    The next Middle East war will start soon, how many countries, who is on which side? we will find out soon.

    1. frank green says:

      Well you’re sort of right but a lot will depend on what happens in four weeks time in the US elections. If Romney gets in, he will arm the opposition in Syria whilst at the same time backing Israel in an attack on Iran. He said as much today The neo-cons have no time for the niceties of diplomacy – just look at Bush and the invasion of Iraq. Its going to be an utter disaster – particularly as Cameron will rush to support the American action,

  6. anon says:

    The removal of dictators in Muslim countries to enable the development of democracy has in several cases just increased the rivalry and aspirations of the different Muslim factions. In Iraq it was predominantly Sunni and Shia. Now it embraces Syria and the Kurds etc etc.

    Perhaps the majority of Arabs are unable to deal with democracy at this stage in their history.We can only hope that all this volatility does not cause the emergence of international terrorism as a means of justifying their positions .Religion for many is their reason for living and the supremacy of their own brand of Islam is of paramount importance. Religious tolerance is for many an unknown. They are far from democratic solutions.

  7. Kit Kat says:

    Like many others, I have become totally disillusioned by the British media bias on issues of foreign policy in relation to the Syrian conflict. Growing ever more frustrated by the lack of intelligent debate and the irrefutable bias towards an Anglo American geopolitical agenda which prescribes lawlessness, condones terrorism and precipitates acts which are wholly unhumanitarian in the name of democracy – I, a British citizen, have sought alternative media sources to compensate for poor national journalism/reporting. I am now hooked on RT Russia Today which is the new alternative news channel for the youth of today. Jon – this recent blog shows that you still have the ability to realise, or atleast attempt to understand what is really going on in Syria and behind all of the spin and blatent media warmongering which has daily marred British media for the past 2 years. I applaud your courage in finally going against the grain and trying (through Koffi Annan) to tell the truth about the Syrian situation. More reporting like this on Channel 4 would undoubtedly see a major revival of viewer numbers. The truth please! That is all we ask for!. We do not condone our government aiding and abetting terrorists and acts of terrorism in Syria. We do not buy the warmongering media rhetoric. We, the British public, have learned from the past. We hope our politicians can do the same. Please please please let us have more of this style of reporting on Channel 4. Congratulations Jon… loved this piece. :)

  8. Carew says:

    I work in Beirut;so kind of in touch with what’s going on..I was sending emails a year ago to Channel 4 saying you were relentlessly painting a distorted black and white picture of the Syrian nightmare…that the rebels were whiter than white…have you just suddenly woken up to the fact that YOU WERE WRONG!!?? and that as a major News broadcaster you had an obligation to do a bit of homework!!

  9. veli says:

    Every week hundreds of syrian people including children and women are killed. Russia and her allies are both supporting and encouraging esad regime to survive and kill rebels without any mercy. On the other hand, Usa, its western allies and gulf countries are pushing rebels to overthrow esad’s regime and kill as much as they can to win the battle. In fact It is a stick having shit on its both sides .

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