Here we go again. The most impressive, or maybe just depressive, aspect of the current debate over what to do about Syria is the air of unreality about it. Words, words, words about Syria -- but only words, no action -- filled the daily news and diplomatic communiques out of this week's G8 Summit. The extensive coverage of the summit came with the usual pictures of World Leaders solemnly conferring. Not to mention the usual doses of sage commentary churned out by the usual foreign policy wonks.
There was something decidedly 20th century about the images out of this G8 meeting. Update the photographs and the technology used to transmit them, and they could be old black-and-white halftones of Distinguished Leaders meeting on the verge of World War Act II at Geneva or Munich. ('PEACE IN OUR TIME!')
This year Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin were pictured in their coats and ties at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland. The topic: What to do about Syria? "We do have different perspectives on the problem," to quote the ever diplomatic Mr. Obama, and the purpose of his confab with the Russian leader this week seems to have been how to paper over those differences.
There's also quite a difference between the Kissingeresque calculations of these leaders' Realpolitik and the bloody realities on the ground. The millions who have been endangered and uprooted by the spreading crisis in Syria don't make Major Addresses or jet across oceans to international summits. They just get to bleed and cry and mourn.
Back in the summer of 2012 there was an unforgettable photograph in the news -- a picture of a Syrian mother carrying her wounded boy, a Pietà for our time. Compare that image it to the group picture of the Movers and Shakers at the G8 summit this week. There you have the difference, the big difference, the yawning gap, between those who make policy and those who pay its price. It's the difference between those who make the decisions and those whose fate is determined by those decisions. Or rather the decisions an apathetic American president fails to make. The effect of his indecision? He only prolongs the pain and suffering there, which grow ever greater.
This gap between words and deeds can't be filled with the glib talk of the Charlie Rose Show or the Sunday morning Week in Review specials. Or the articles in Foreign Affairs that speak of the struggle over Syria as if it were some kind of chess game in which the pawns are just pushed around the board and never groan in agony.