Chemical weapons are heinous weapons. They are indiscriminate in their choice of victims. Their users are monsters. Their effects are difficult to control once they are used. Their deployment in a theatre of war effectively announces that their users have given up on finding a political solution to their problems. But they are not unique. Nor are they the most heinous weapons ever used or deployed in theatres of war.
Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, John Kerry, would have you believe that because Bashar al Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people he is beyond the pale and that it must fall on the global community to "do something about it." the United States' President and his military command are mulling military action, short of invasion, against President Assad and his regime. They have been building up their case against the Syrian President for months. Their claims have not persuaded the people of the United Kingdom. Nor even a majority of US citizens.
While leaders in Western capitals ponder what to do with the Syrian regime, some matters must be confronted. The United States does not come to this debate with clean hands. The United States is the only country to have ever deployed and used weapons of mass destruction against a civilian population in a theatre of war. The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a terrible stain on the human conscience. The United States deployed and used chemical weapons during its long and bloody war in Vietnam. It assisted Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq, in his deployment and use of chemical weapons against Iran in the 1980s. It is facile for the United States to speak of international law when it so blithely ignores international law.
The Syrian civil war has been fought for over two years now. It is the product of decades of sectarian differences, military coups and the brutal suppression of any opposition to its power by the Assad family. During this civil war, millions of Syrians have been displaced from their homes; it is claimed that there are more than one million children in refugee or displacement camps in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Hundreds of thousands have been killed in the civil war. It is only when a few hundreds are allegedly killed with poison gas that the United States is roused to do something about it.
The world is tired of United States-led wars. After a decade in which the the United States has invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, waged undeclared wars against Libya, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, and spied on enemies and allies alike, the United States cannot expect the world to trust that when it intervenes in Syria there will be an improvement. What is so special about Syria that is not special about the military coup in Egypt? Is it that Egypt's military junta will not breach its peace treaty with Israel and Syria does not have one?
It is quite clear that on the United Nations Security Council the United States will receive only the support of Great Britain and France. Russia and China, the other permanent members will not lift a finger to help. Indeed, Russia has indicated that it will reject any calls for military action in Syria. It might be because of Russia's military and commercial ties to Syria; but that is the price the world pays for having the veto-wielding members of the Security Council. This is the essence of international law that the United States is tom-tomming for all to hear. It is not for the United States to pick and choose which of the rules of international law it will obey and which ones it will ignore. The last time it did so, it lost men and treasure in the hot sands of Iraq and Afghanistan. And the world was made that much more dangerous.