Lakhdar Brahimi

Article excerpt

Byline: Christopher Dickey

Taking on a tough assignment.

The new United Nations envoy to Syria had the good sense to try to beg off. Former Algerian foreign minister and veteran U.N. troubleshooter Lakhdar Brahimi is 78 years old and has seen more than his share of war and peace, and then more wars again, in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. He leads a pleasant life in Paris now, as a distinguished elder statesman on the global stage. One of his children, Rym Brahimi (the former CNN correspondent), is a princess in Jordan, and he's an adoring grandfather. Brahimi himself is so genteel and so pleasant in social intercourse that any of us who've met him must wish him ease in his golden years.

But in the end, Brahimi took the Syria job anyway. While he judges his own chances of success in delivering peace as very slim, he believes that somebody's got to do it. "These missions have to be undertaken," he told the BBC after the announcement last week that he'd be replacing Kofi Annan. (The former U.N. secretary-general lasted only six months on the job, and during that time Syria moved from massive protests and sporadic violence to all-out civil war.) "We have got to try. We have got to see that the Syrian people are not abandoned," said Brahimi. "I might well fail, but we sometimes are lucky and we can get a breakthrough."

A senior U.N. official describes Brahimi as "a mission-impossible type," but that's really a backhanded compliment. Brahimi's first stop on the treacherous road to Syria's salvation: New York City for some tough talks with the permanent members of the Security Council. …