The Washington Post, reporting on the Syrian government's latest atrocity:
The United States and Britain separately expressed deep concern [about the chemical attack], demanded an urgent and unfettered investigation by a United Nations team already in Syria and called for emergency consultations in the U.N. Security Council. They strongly condemned any use of chemical weapons and said anyone responsible must be held accountable.
Mere condemnations of sovereign brutality have become so de rigueur as to be almost unnoticeable, thus modifiers have become as imperative as the condemnations. We condemn the Syrian war criminals? Go blow, they'll say. Oh, we strongly condemn them? Well in that case that's literally one for the history books--but it still makes not one bloody bit of difference.
For the much larger and practical problem, of course, is this rhetorical business of "anyone responsible must be held accountable." How? By whom? In what fashion? The answers are as elusive as the rhetoric is essentially empty.
For all we know President Obama meant it when he drew a "red line," but it's for damn sure that he soon regretted drawing it, and he harbored no serious intentions of enforcing it. And now, subsequent to the send-some-spokesman-out-to-announce-small-arms-to-Syria-interventionism donnybrook, even his minor, unserious intentions have been swallowed by the cat.
It's not that we're a paper tiger; it's just that we're played out and rather too busy re-ratcheting our customary indifference to the world. After Iraq and Afghanistan, we've had enough--and to the neocons who want more, they can thank themselves for having put the sword to all the "fun." In addition, the notion of coming to the militarized aid of radical Sunni Islamists hellbent on next slaughtering Americans seems to lack a good deal of domestic appeal.
So we're left with "We strongly condemn this shit"--and then a Shakespearean aside, "But what else can we do?"