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Jane Ahlin, Published August 31 2013

Ahlin: About the week’s news: It wasn’t a good thing

A quick quiz on some of the week’s news: 1) With the Obama administration contemplating strikes against Syria, do most Americans know the name of Syria’s president? 2) Was that the real Colin Powell appearing on “Face the Nation”? 3) What’s “twerking” and who killed Hannah Montana? 4) Why was the 50th anniversary celebration of the civil rights march on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech a downer?

Do the answers to the questions above have a common theme?

Bashar el-Assad is Syria’s president. One of the sons of former president and strongman Hafez el-Assad, Bashar was not the one who was supposed to be president. However, his older brother was killed in a car accident and Bashar – at the time, a mild-mannered ophthalmologist – was called upon. Briefly, the world thought Bashar el-Assad’s quiet, calm nature would usher in reform or, at the very least, result in a kinder, gentler regime.

Sad to say, we know how that worked out. In fact, the world grows more certain every day that Assad is using chemical weapons on his own people in an effort to quell a determined rebellion, a horrifying move somehow made worse by the fact that he was a physician. Unfortunately, as United Nations weapons inspectors finish gathering evidence, there’s no worldwide agreement about what should happen next.

The topic is big among the talking heads of news shows, with a parade of experts and current and former national leaders weighing in. Colin Powell showed up on the CBS show “Face the Nation.” Gun-shy about U.S. intervention in Syria, he characterized the battle between rebels and government forces as an “internal struggle” that the U.S. can’t fix. (Polls say most Americans agree with him.)

We’re probably safe in assuming that was the real Colin Powell talking. Before the four-star general became secretary of state under George W. Bush, his voice usually was cautionary. His military career began in the quagmire of Vietnam, and conventional wisdom said he’d learned from that no-win war. His lack of credibility today stems from his decision not to take a public stand against the Iraq War when that stance would have made a difference.

Of all the hype and manufactured drama leading up to the Iraq War, nothing was as disheartening as Powell’s role. When he gave his dog-and- pony show to the U.N. with what was posed as proof Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, Powell was believed overwhelmingly. Not President Bush, nor Vice President Cheney, nor Condoleezza Rice – who were all promoting the Iraq invasion every chance they got – had the trust of the country the way Powell did. Had he resigned rather than participate in the sham, the Bush administration’s march to war could have been slowed

In his autobiography, “It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership,” Powell wrote, “Yes, a blot, a failure will always be attached to me and my U.N. presentation. … I am mad mostly at myself for not having smelled the problem. My instincts failed me.” (With all the injured and killed young Americans as a result of the Iraq War, “instincts” is not the appropriate word.)

But on to twerking. Twerking is dirty dancing – not ala Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the 1987 movie “Dirty Dancing” – think “porny” instead of arty. Or, in the parlance of last week’s news, think Miley Cyrus with Robin Thicke – almost twice her age – offending everybody at MTV’s recent VMA show, just another child star afraid her wholesome image from Disney/Hannah Montana days will ruin her career. (All the attention paid the vulgar performance suggests she’s right.)

Hard to know what to say about the 50th anniversary of “I Have a Dream,” except to tie it to the other news of the week. Put simply, we are one disillusioned nation. Maybe the Miley Cyrus performance got more attention than Syria last week because we don’t connect to national decision-making anymore. Maybe the “I Have a Dream” anniversary celebration fell flat because we’ve forgotten that a movement of hope and nonviolence can change the world.

Whatever it is, it isn’t a good thing.

Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.