During that time, Assad has shown a willingness to violate agreements almost as soon as his regime signs them. This allows him to demonstrate to the world that he is both willing to embrace diplomacy by taking steps to deescalate the violence, all the while obfuscating on his commitments, dragging out the process, and using the very violence that he creates as an excuse to impede UN inspectors from performing their mandate.
In November 2011, when the conflict in Syria was not yet a civil war, the Arab League struck an agreement with the Syrian government in the hope of cutting back what was then a cycle of violence by the security forces on peaceful protesters. Under the plan, the Syrian Army was supposed to withdraw its soldiers and security personnel from populated cities around the country; release political prisoners from the country’s jails; and launch a negotiating process that would include defectors and opponents of the Assad regime.
It took less than three months for the Arab League to figure out that Damascus was not living up to its obligations. Indeed, the violence worsened to such an extent that the Arab League determined that it simply was too dangerous to continue its peacemaking mission.
The next opportunity for Assad to show his sincerity was in February and March of 2012, when former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to serve as the UN-Arab League mediator on Syria – proposed a six-point plan that would establish a ceasefire and commit Assad to allow peaceful protests. Like the Arab League’s efforts almost two months earlier, Mr. Annan’s efforts proved to be a waste of time.
After a few days of relative quiet, the killings and Syrian Army operations continued at a pace that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights predicted resulted in the deaths of an additional 5,000 civilians. Given the UN Security Council’s lack of an enforcement mechanism for the ceasefire plan, nothing else should have been expected from the Assad regime.