Chemical Weapons

What should the US do about a nation that uses chemical weapons against a civilian population? This question is the one Obama asks us all in regards to the Syrian situation. My personal position is that Obama should let it slide, since I don’t want a cruise missile strike on Dubya’s house here in Dallas. His chemical weapon? I’ll choose white phosphorous, or WP.

WP is an incendiary agent. Both the Geneva Convention and the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons forbid its use against civilian targets. Because it is a highly efficient oxygen depletion substance, WP is chosen as an anti-tunnel agent: set off a WP grenade in a tunnel and it will use up all the oxygen in the tunnel, suffocating enemy soldiers in the tunnel. Therefore, WP saw heavy use in Vietnam.

It also saw heavy use in the Chechnya War, where about 20% of all Russian artillery rounds fired were WP rounds. Saddam Hussein used WP in poison gas attacks against Iranian positions. Hussein also used it against Kurds in his suppression campaign against them. In the Iraq War and Occupation, US forces employed WP against military targets in civilian areas, which is prohibited in the conventions, mentioned above. The US also employed MK 77 incendiary bombs which, although still referred to as “napalm”, are not, in fact, napalm, which allows the US to use the MK 77 and then later deny it was using napalm when accused of using the substance. Clever dodge there, but at the end of the day, it’s a nasty chemical incendiary that international law forbids in use against civilians.

Israel has also used WP against civilian targets in Lebanon. Does that mean Netanyahu has equal need to hide from a US strike as does Assad? There’s also indisputable evidence of Israel using WP against Gaza refugee camps, just in case the Lebanon stuff isn’t enough to warrant a cruise missile or two slamming into Tel Aviv.

That last sentence stops me cold. I was ready to also note Hamas’ use of WP and Saudi Arabian use of WP against Yemeni insurgents, but let’s visit that “cruise missile or two slamming into Tel Aviv.” There are real people in that city, and heaven knows they’re not deserving of a cruise missile or two, even if the head of their nation has used chemical weapons against a civilian population. Damascus is a similar city, now torn apart by a civil war, but people still live there. They don’t deserve their civil war and they certainly don’t deserve a cruise missile strike from the USA.

Even if the chemical agent in question is the nerve gas toxin sarin, I don’t think hitting Syrian civilians with cruise missiles sends the right message. When Saddam Hussein used sarin both against the Kurds and the Iranian soldiers in the Iran-Iraq War, the USA permitted those actions. He was our ally at the time, and we had knowledge of his use of sarin at the highest levels of our government. Nothing happened to Saddam Hussein until after he was done being our ally. Assad never was our ally, so he’s open to the charge.

Except… well, there’s the matter of Iraqi insurgents attempting to use sarin against US forces occupying Iraq. The attack failed, but the same guys that tried to hit us with sarin are now making up a portion of the forces fighting Assad’s regime in Syria. They have everything to gain by getting the USA involved against Assad, so why not gas a few civilians? The end justifies the means to these wretched murderers, and what’s more, they’ve tried something like this before. Why are we not investigating this angle of the story more? Yes, an agent was used, but who used it and for what purpose?

The record is clear: of all the use of chemical agents in the region, it is the USA and its allies that dominate the incident reports. Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq when it was an ally, and the USA itself. Now that al-Qaeda is allied to the USA in this conflict (and is this why we hear very little about the recent upsurge in violence in Iraq?), are we giving it a free pass to use nerve gas to draw the USA into a conflict that clearly no good can come from?

What should we do? Rather than talk about lobbing missiles into the homes of Arabs, how about a discussion of how Qatar and Saudi Arabia are paying for the war in Syria, providing heavy funding to al-Qaeda in the process? How about a discussion of what happens when al-Qaeda becomes an arm of US foreign policy? There is already a growing debate about the soul of the nation in the wake of the Panic of 2008 and the revelations about NSA spying. My final question is in regards to our alliance and finding common cause with al-Qaeda: does it add to that debate, or does it seal it off, providing final proof of what the USA has become?

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