It’s just about a week since Russia and China, in a rare joint action, vetoed a European-sponsored resolution that “strongly condemns the continued grave and systematic human rights violations by Syrian authorities.” The only thing strong about this defense of civilians was the use of the word “strongly.” And, as Colum Lynch reported in The Washington Post, the resolution demanded that Damascus “cease the use of force against civilians” and grant “fundamental freedoms” to prisoners. Well, as it happens, there aren’t fundamental human rights in Syria (or, for that matter, in other and maybe all Arab countries, sorry to say). And what if Syria failed to comply had the resolution passed? As Lynch puts it, “the council would have to consider ‘other options,’ a veiled reference to sanctions.”

This is a joke, a bitter joke. What do I mean by a joke? I mean the Security Council itself and the whole United Nations.

Susan Rice stormed out of the Security Council meeting. Given the delusions she and her boss had harbored about what could be accomplished at the U.N., I suppose this is a good thing, especially as she was followed out by the British envoy and was also supported, so to the speak, by a statement from the French delegate. So what happened in Syria over the weekend? I may be leaping to conclusions. But the 2.5 million Kurds, who had tried to stay out of the storm because they are reviled as a group by virtually all Arabs, were lured into politics by mass marches with the assassination of one of their most moderate leaders.

I suppose very few people any longer think of Russia and China as progressive countries. And they are correct not to. Still, in the Security Council at least, they function as the vanguard of what is left of the left. In number of governments certainly. Which is another bitter joke.

But there is still the rank and file. And it’s amazing how many dotty people still think of Cuba as a progressive country. Well, according to Agence France Presse, its foreign minister and the foreign minister of Venezuela were in Damascus this weekend fluffing up their Syrian comrades. In fact, they weren’t alone. High government emissaries also from Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua were there to express their solidarity for socialist Syria. No, no, no. No one can pretend that. But this is yet another joke. Progressives, indeed.

Martin Peretz is editor-in-chief emeritus of The New Republic.