If you don't know where you're going, the old saying goes, any road will get you there.
The conventional wisdom on Syria has it that the external actors to the tragic drama playing out these many months don't know what to do, have no end game, and are thus incapable of acting alone or in concert to end the killing and create an effective transition to the post-Assad era.
But that's wrong. The key actors -- America, Russia, Turkey, Iran, and the Arabs -- know precisely what they're about (or at least what they want to avoid) and are acting quite willfully to attend to their own interests.
In short, we have a coalition not of the willing but of the disabled, the unwilling, and the opposed. And each has a clear agenda. The tragedy for Syria is that it's just not a common agenda. And here's why.
The United Nations - We can dispense with the idea that the United Nations is a consequential player quite quickly. The U.N. is only as strong as its member states, and in this case that means the five permanent members of the Security Council. The U.N.'s relevance in any global emergency occurs either at the front end of a crisis -- as a legitimizer of action -- or, if the powers that run the place agree, as an implementing arm once they do.
When there's no consensus, as in the case of Syria, the U.N. is relegated to articulating rather than acting. Enter Kofi Annan, whose six-point initiative was dead before it was born. Not only are the great powers divided, but the gap between the regime and the opposition is a galactic one that renders any diplomatic approach -- either on confidence-builders or on an end game -- pointless. The fact that the former secretary-general is trying to expand his contact group to include the Iranians has only added to the confusion, allowing the Russians (who have adopted the idea) to avoid any serious action.
Aaron David Miller is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
The above article was published in foreignpolicy.com on June 13th, 2012.