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By attacking Syria, Obama is making a political point, not a moral one

January 30, 2014 at 2:38 am

Like many US presidents passed, President Obama is determined to violently attack others in the name of morality and the common good. He and other American exceptionalists tell us that the US has a moral obligation to enter into the Syrian conflict, even though any such military intervention goes against international law and popular will. The UN Security Council has not sanctioned any attack on Syria and so far the situation has not met the standards for a humanitarian intervention under the so-called responsibility to protect norm. Furthermore, not only is international opinion against military intervention in Syria, but a new Washington Post-ABC News poll reveals that around six out of ten Americans also oppose the proposed US military strike.

Nevertheless, President Obama appears more determined than ever to conduct an extra-legal military assault against the Syrian regime, we are told, in the name of morality – supposedly in response to a chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus on Wednesday, 21 August that was allegedly carried out by President Al-Assad’s forces.

Any use of chemical weapons is indeed reprehensible. However as Gideon Levy correctly points out in an article recently published by Haaretz, nobody on this planet can seriously consider the US, the “country responsible for the most bloodshed since World War II – some say as many as 8 million dead at its hands – in Southeast Asia, South America, Afghanistan and Iraq,” to be a moral superpower.

Especially considering that the US has often used chemical weapons in the past. We all know about the US military’s use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, which Vietnam says killed or maimed around 400,000 Vietnamese and caused some 500,000 children to be born with birth defects. Although not widely reported by the Western media, evidence also shows that the US used depleted uranium during the 1991 Gulf War, as well as white phosphorus during the Iraq War. According to The Independent, one American soldier who fought in the battle of Fallujah describes the latter’s indiscriminate effects thus: “Phosphorus burns bodies, in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone … I saw the burned bodies of women and children. Phosphorus explodes and forms a cloud. Anyone within a radius of 150 metres is done for.”

But, of course, when Iraqi fighters used their moral authority to target the foreign occupiers responsible for such disgusting and immoral attacks, the US called them terrorists.

It is likely there are many other instances that we do not yet know about when the US has either used chemical weapons or supported their use. Indeed, only a few days after the Ghouta incident, Foreign Policy magazine published an exclusive and timely report. Alas the story was conveniently buried, but according to this explosive report, recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials reveal that merely one generation ago, American military and intelligence not only “did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen,” but also facilitated the deadly attacks, proving that the Americans were officially complicit “in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched,” and for the simple reason that the US wanted “our side” to win the Iran-Iraq War.

The report confirms that, “In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defences.” US intelligence officials then “conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that [Saddam] Hussein’s military would attack [them] with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.” Incidentally, sarin is the weapon that was reportedly used in Ghouta.

This particular attack was only the “last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.” Indeed the documents and interviews confirm that the US had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983. At the time the Iranians were desperately trying to build a case to present to the UN, however they lacked the needed evidence implicating Iraq.

According to another article just published by The Guardian, during the course of the Iran-Iraq War, altogether “There were more than 30 chemical attacks on residential areas in Iran, as well as on the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja, where more than 5,000 civilians were killed. Companies based in the UK, France, Germany, Spain, the US, India and Egypt were involved in selling and providing material for these chemical weapons to Iraq.” Earlier this week The Washington Post also reminded us that, “The administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush authorized the sale to Iraq of numerous items that had both military and civilian applications, including poisonous chemicals and deadly biological viruses, such as anthrax and bubonic plague.”

And yet today, in another cruel twist of fate, the very same Western countries that provided Iraq with chemical weapons back then are now preventing those Iranians who were attacked from getting treatment. While The Guardian points out that Western sanctions against Iran do not specifically target the sale of medicines, in practice the shipping and banking restrictions make it “extremely difficult for any pharmaceutical company to arrange for payment and shipment” of vital medications. Thus, if the US were really concerned with morality, the president and Congress would rethink a sanctions policy that hurts ordinary Iranians, including those who were disfigured by chemical attacks that Western corporations and governments made possible.

Indeed if the US really valued morality, it would condemn using weapons of mass destruction for any attack, whether by friend or foe. As US Secretary of State John Kerry recently said, “Let me be clear. The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard, it is inexcusable.” But apparently the standards suddenly change when the US is the one using the weapons of mass destruction. The US has never even apologized for dropping nuclear bombs on Japanese civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Author Joy Kogawa re-imagines the event in Nagasaki for one grandmother:

All around her people one after another collapsed and died, crying for water. One old man no longer able to keep moving lay on the ground, holding up a dead baby and crying, “Save the children. Leave the old.” No one took the dead child from his outstretched hands. Men, women, in many cases indistinguishable by sex, hairless, half clothed, hobbled past. Skin hung from their bodies like tattered rags. One man held his bowels in with the stump of one hand.

The death toll in Nagasaki was reportedly 50,000, and Hiroshima 125,000. And to think, American history still teaches us that World War II was “the good war”.

This just illustrates how American ethics only make sense if we choose to ignore the human tragedy that actually unfolds when the US violently imposes its morality upon the world. Because in the real world, the innocent deaths that always accompany this imposition clearly undermine any moral argument. So in effect, by attacking Syria, Obama is making a political point, not a moral one. The US simply wants “our side” to win in Syria, just like it did in the Iran-Iraq War, which the Senate has made clear by changing the text of the resolution authorizing a US military strike to stress the goal of strengthening Syrian rebels and weakening the Al-Assad regime. Thus the US appears to be set to wage yet another war that is against international law and public opinion because as a global superpower it can do so with impunity, conveniently ignoring that “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims” is the precise definition of terrorism.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.