The images emerging from Syria -- from this hysterical young girl to these rows of corpses -- should be a turning point in a conflict that has killed 100,000 people. The deaths, if proven, demonstrate either the depravity of Bashar al-Assad -- or the rebels fighting him.
But the Obama administration has spent so much time distancing itself and Americans from acting in Syria that a serious U.S. reaction is politically impossible in Washington. And instead of learning its lesson -- and respecting Syria’s dead -- the White House is repeating its destructive pattern of issuing empty threats.
Hours after the images appeared, National Security Adviser Susan Rice demanded on Twitter that the Syrian government “allow the UN access to the attack site to investigate” and vowed that “those responsible will be held accountable."
Deputy White House Spokesman Josh Earnest called the use of chemical weapons, if proven, “completely unacceptable” and also said those responsible “will be held accountable.”
Yet it was unclear how, exactly, the administration will hold anyone accountable in Syria. For the last two years, American military action has been off the table. And the White House's decision in June to give light weapons to the Syrian rebels is likely to have little immediate impact.