Paul Greenberg

There are some phrases that come to mean the opposite of what they say. For example, Never Again!

That vow is uttered after every genocidal campaign makes the news. It was heard after Srebrenica in the Balkans, after what happened in Rwanda and Darfur in Africa, after every recurring horror. And it grows less and less meaningful, more a precursor to the next atrocity than a reaction to the last.

Never Again! That refrain goes back at least to the Armenian Massacres at the beginning of the 20th century and the Holocaust in the middle of it. Ours may not have been the nuclear century or the internetted century so much as the genocidal century.

Now another city is being reduced to a charnel house -- Homs in Syria -- while the world stands by, talking, talking, talking. Blood flows, war brews, and the diplomats give speeches.

At the United Nations, that great font of resolutions without resolution, the distinguished representatives dither while Syria's dictator wipes out a restive population. Just as Moammar Gadhafi set out to do in Libya before the West finally roused itself. His end should have set an example of how to handle crises like the one in Syria, but Washington and the rest of the West only confer; they do not act.

There is much talk out of Western capitals, little else. While the innocents are slaughtered. In ever increasing numbers. Statesmen gather to negotiate carefully balanced statements that are supposed to address the problem but don't -- as if they believed that words speak louder than actions. As always, they don't. Which is why the phrase Never Again! has acquired such an ironic sound.

Here's another term now used to mean its opposite: Unacceptable. Again and again this administration -- indeed, all the West -- has said letting Iran's mullahs get their hands on a nuclear weapon would be, "unacceptable." But the cyclotrons keep spinning.

Time is running out for those who say, but only say, they would not accept a nuclear-armed Iran. The time when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and fanatical company have a nuke and the means to deliver it draws nearer. Once he gets a nuclear weapon of his very own, Mr. Apocalypse would be able not just to talk about wiping another country off the map (or maybe two or three) but to do it.

But that would be "unacceptable," according to our president. By which, it becomes clearer with each passing day, he means acceptable.

Economic sanctions are voted at the UN. So? Iran's regime evades them, and imposes embargoes of its own.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.