BEIRUT—If the only thing you knew about Syria came from the United Nations Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura’s briefing to the Security Council this month, you might assume that dramatic events were afoot. An important meeting had taken place in Istanbul, he said, while equally vital summits in Astana, Kazakhstan, and of the G-20 countries in Buenos Aires were in the offing. The work under way was “absolutely urgent,” he told the council, and the coming weeks “will be of crucial importance.”
Outside of such briefings, however, there is no suspense about the outcome of the Syrian war. President Bashar al-Assad, with the help of his Russian and Iranian allies, has used brute force to pacify the majority of the country. Half of the Syrian population has fled their homes, and the violence has reached such a fever pitch that the United Nations has lost count of the number of lives claimed by the war. The prospects for de Mistura’s peace plan are nonexistent—Assad is not about to relinquish his hard-won battlefield gains at the negotiating table.
The Swedish Italian diplomat’s tenure is emblematic of the international community’s struggles to grapple with Syria. His term provides a window into the forces that have made the conflict so resistant to diplomacy, and has served as a launching point for a debate among analysts and would-be peacemakers about diplomats’ roles in resolving the world’s worst crises.