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Dr. Faheem Younus Headshot

Libyan War and the Emperor's Moral Clothes

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Some things never change.

Just like the nineteenth century tale, The Emperor's New Clothes, today's leaders also remain obsessed with their appearance. And moral appearance is merely an extension of the same psychology.

So be it the invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya, American emperors have always looked for the "moral grounds" of military action.

And whether they are politicians, pundits, or the representatives of American military industrial complex, the "weavers" never fail to make an appearance.

For the past two weeks, many weavers have offered promises and reassurance to the emperor. "You will look so good in these new moral clothes" they say. Our House Speaker, John Boehner, said, "The United States has a moral obligation to stand with those who seek freedom from oppression and self-government for their people." Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Institute, Jamie M. Fly, stated in The USA Today opinion piece "Intervening is a moral obligation for the United States". Peter Feaver expressed this loaded position in Foreign Policy "Military action makes us morally responsible but military inaction allows us to avoid moral responsibility." And Bill Kristol of Weekly Standard wrote in reference to Robert Gates' presumed resignation, "And let someone take over as the Secretary of Defense who believes in the missions in which American forces are now engaged, and who does not shy away from the understanding that American power is a crucial force for good in the world."

"Forget a billion people, arguably, (Americans and non-Americans worldwide) who fail to see our emperor's moral dress" the weavers say. They are simply stupid.

But the problem with the moral argument is not only that the country we go to war for doesn't get it, or that the world at large doesn't get it, but also that a majority of Americans don't get it. Try understanding a largely independent decision of bombing a sovereign nation, dubbing the loss of civilian lives as collateral damage, destabilizing the regional diplomatic equilibrium and spending US tax payer's dollars, all in the name of morality.

No surprise that a worldwide audience laughs at the emperor's moral nudity.

The problem gets compounded by our selective pattern of "moral responsibility." Many ask: Where was our moral responsibility in the genocide that claimed the lives of nearly half a million people and displaced another 2.7 million in Darfur, Sudan? Where was our moral responsibility in the Angolan War which resulted in over half a million deaths? Where was our moral responsibility in the Algerian War between the government and rebel groups which resulted in 150,000 to 200,000 deaths (including the assassination of 70 journalists), and... the list is long but you got the point, right?

The world largely sees our interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya, as imperialist wars of self-interest. That is not to say intervention is never justified -- but its abuse is equally absurd. The emperor may be shrouded in national and strategic interests but this moral cover is pretty much a myth.

President Obama is a well dressed man -- both literally and morally. He is right in relinquishing the command and control of the Libyan operation to NATO. And if he envisions a foreign policy where we will not be seen as invaders, the moral dress code of a past President, John Quincy Adams, should help. In his July 4th 1821 address to the U.S. House of Representatives as the Secretary of State, Adams encapsulated US foreign policy in the following words:

She [America] has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.

So next time you cry out to the emperor that he is morally nude, don't feel bad. You are only helping him to follow the principles America's founding fathers crafted.

Some things should never change.