The UN's scapegoat function | The Multilateralist U.S. officials are acknowledging more and more openly that Kofi Annan's efforts in Syria are not producing results. Last week came the admission that the plan hasn't succeeded yet. Now administration officials concede that a new approach might be necessary. White House spokesman Jay Carney put it this way: As a description of events on the ground, none of this is surprising; it's been clear for weeks that the Syrian regime was intent on continuing its fight against opponents. But the way in which these acknowledgements are phrased points to an important role that multilateral institutions play: they effectively disperse blame. The defeat belongs to the "international community" (not the administration) and the thing that is failing is Kofi Annan's plan (rather than U.S. diplomacy that helped launch that process). UN officials are of course acutely aware of their utility as scapegoats, and my sense is that they simply accept the function is part of the job. Nor is the phenomenon all bad. The UN mediation and observer process is being used because there are no politically palatable options for the big players. Syria has already caused plenty of friction between key Security Council members and shuffling the nettlesome issue off to the UN has at least allowed for a respite in the name-calling--if not the shelling.