The same is true in Russian diplomacy. Lavrov, and his bosses, clearly don’t want Russians back home to think they support a regime that is firing on demonstrators — although they do — particularly in a week when demonstrators have thronged the streets of Moscow, carrying banners calling for “honest elections.” It makes them look, well, undemocratic. So the Russian foreign ministry has to pretend to be fighting for Syrian democracy, even as the Syrian army is simultaneously waging a full-scale war against its people.

I’m of two minds about this “pretend democracy promotion,” the natural offshoot of Russia’s pretend democracy. On the one hand, it cheapens the language. If “we support Syrian democracy” really means “we support Syrian dictatorship,” then we’re in an Orwellian world where nothing means anything anymore at all.

On the other hand, people are not stupid: Syrians and Russians both know the difference between “democracy,” “constitutions” and “referendums” on the one hand, and naked violence on the other. The more the Russians use those words, the more obvious it will be, to Syrians and to Russians, that in this context they are meaningless. Perhaps some of them will eventually decide they want the real thing instead.