The Emperor's New Syria Policy

It was an "emperor's new clothes" moment. You know the story: "scoundrels" show up at court, pretending to be tailors. They promise to make an elegant robe that will be invisible to those unfit for their positions. When the con-men pretend to present the robe, all the courtiers pretend to see and admire it, and the emperor, afraid to appear unfit, wears it on parade. Along the curb stands a young boy, "who had no important job and could see only things as his eyes showed them to him." "The emperor is naked," he cries out.

In my retirement, I love to meet with younger people. At coffee with a college student, when I raised the subject of Syria, he asked a series of simple questions:

Knowing at least highlights of US actions abroad in the last 70 years, I start by asking: on what grounds does any U.S. administration arrogate to itself the right to "change" or throw out the regimes of other countries?

In particular, now that Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya have all been transformed into failed states, is it really wise to attack Syria in support of the "good" rebels, the "moderate" rebels, against the ruler of that country?

Why are we "shocked, shocked" by the brutality of rulers who don't follow our directions while overlooking the brutality of dictators who side with the U.S. [I didn't know people were still alluding to the movie "Casablanca."]

Regardless of what we may think of Mr. Putin, was he not invited by the government of Syria as an ally? Does Russia not have a base there, as the US does in many other countries?

Wasn't it a wise rule of the Cold War that the two big nuclear powers should never confront one another directly, but only through what they thought of as proxies? (When this rule was broken during the Cuban missile crisis, those 13 days were called the most dangerous in human history.)

Why does the U.S. have the right to declare a "no-fly zone" over any country other than our own?

Is it not an abdication of responsibility for the Congress to authorize the executive to "use military force" in the President's sole judgment, indefinitely, anywhere around the globe, in a so-called war of terror?

Are we winning this "war on terror," or are we arousing hatred that will last a lifetime or longer?

On balance, has liberty been "made safe" or safer, by the mass surveillance exposed by such whistle,-blowers as Edward Snowden? Is that even an adequate question?

Would it not be wise to get out of Syria--"boots on the ground," weapons sent to shady rebels, warplanes in the air bombing government forces "by accident.," whatever?

Are we so stupid as to accept any military action labeled as "humanitarian"?

This student's response reminded me not only of the Hans Christian Anderson story about the emperor's new clothes, but also of a visit that I made to the House of Commons as a foreign student at the London School of Economics. At times, the opposition speakers didn't denounce the ruling party. They simply asked a series of questions.