If the brave reporting of the late Marie Colvin and her colleagues wasn't enough, an analogy may illuminate the moral cowardice of the international community's response in Syria.
Imagine a team of heavily-armed police officers in a park witnessing an unarmed woman being raped by a smaller group of lightly-armed men. She resists and cries out for help. Instead of intervening to save her, the police officers seek advice on whether coming to her aid would be legal; debate amongst themselves whether this might put their own lives at risk; and ponder whether other members of the assailants' gang might view their actions as 'taking sides'.
Due to their own humanity and external pressure to act, they speculate that assuming the correct legal clearances, they might at some stage in the future create a fenced off area into which the woman could crawl to avoid future attacks. They rule out immediate prosecution of her attackers but say that a decade later they might establish a special 'Rape Crime Tribunal' to deter future wrongdoing. The former Mayor of the town visits the rapists in an attempt, through exclusively diplomatic means, to end the rape and prevent any provocative intervention by the police. The assailants refuse to desist as long as the woman insists on her right to resist.
Now back to the reality of the pomp of the White House lawn this week. Had Obama and Cameron's words been translated into Russian and Chinese, they might easily have been mistaken for those of President Putin and Premier Wen Jiabao. Cameron referred vaguely to humanitarian aid and said that the US and UK are "trying to achieve transition not trying to foment revolution". Obama talked of the need to "facilitate a soft landing" and how it is "a difficult situation".
Cameron's warning to the Assad regime that "people have to remember that international law has a long reach and has got a long memory", is hardly a credible deterrent, given that it has taken the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda 18 years to secure 69 convictions for a genocide which killed 1 million.
These are the same leaders who rightly state that the diplomatic track on Iran is only successful because of the credible threat of military force. By so clearly removing this option from the table, by pouring water on the very flames of freedom they had fanned elsewhere during the Arab Spring, and by not more robustly challenging the diplomatic cover provided by China and Russia, our leaders show that Western resolve and moral leadership is voluble but practically ineffectual.
The civilians of Syria are not living in an analogy; they are paying in blood and suffering as this brutal realpolitik unfolds. Inaction is a form of action and we are failing the brave defenders of freedom in Syria and sending a message to the world that dictators and their allies can be the arbiters of human progress, not people power. This is a tragic indictment of the failure of the international system and the fabled transatlantic alliance to bolster the 'responsibility to protect' and it shames us all.