It is time to set Lakhdar Brahimi free. After a year's service as envoy for the United Nations and Arab League to Syria, the veteran Algerian mediator faces the final breakdown of his efforts to end the war. Disillusioned with both the Syrian government and its opponents, he came close to resigning in May. Since then he has hung on, mainly because his departure would look like an admission that a peace deal is impossible. His demeanor suggests that he is painfully conscious of the hopelessness of his situation.
In the face of a U.N. Security Council deadlocked on Syria, the United States and its allies could seek other means of legitimizing any retaliatory strike they launch against Syria's government for last week's alleged gas attack on civilians.
More than 100,000 people have now been killed in the Syria civil war. The United States and Russia vowed in May to press for a follow up to a peace conference held in Geneva last year, which set out a transition plan. However, divisions between Syrian opposition groups and diplomatic hurdles thrown up by President Bashar al-Assad's government have blocked efforts to call a new meeting.
The U.S. and its allies have consistently called for a rapid cessation of hostilities and a negotiated settlement. Yet they are currently pursuing military, diplomatic and humanitarian strategies that could contribute to prolonging the conflict. This could result in either a stalemate inside Syria or even more violence in the country and across the Middle East.
How deep is the divide separating Russia and the United States on Syria? Washington and Moscow have been trying since May to organize an international peace conference to bring an end to the violence. But hopes that such a conference will take place anytime soon - if at all - are fading quickly.
The Arab Spring has reminded us of the importance of properly understanding the tasks, pace and sequencing of the political transition that follows the cessation of conflict or collapse of authoritarian regimes. Transitions are bridges between old and new political orders, and it is essential that they should be resilient to a wide range of potential challenges.