The nation seems more polarized than ever regarding the possibility of military intervention against Syria for the use of chemical weapons against its own civilians. While I have advocated intervention on immediate humanitarian grounds, I also readily acknowledge I am in the minority opinion. But there are much deeper issues, long ranging issues. One of those issues has to do with the safety of our soldiers in the field. The key to that is adherence and protection of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The Chemical Weapons Convention(CWC) outlaws the manufacture, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons such as the one Assad’s forces used on civilians two weeks ago. And it remains important to note here that Assad has never denied the use of these weapons, which I think would be a diplomatic no brainer if I was facing an attack by the most powerful nation on earth. Currently 189 nations are party to the CWC, which carries the force of international law, Israel and Myanmar have signed, but have yet to ratify the convention. Syria, with North Korea, South Sudan, Egypt and Angola is one of 5 nations that have not signed the convention, which in a democratic sort of way makes them, at the very least, pariahs.
The United States is not without reproach here. Defoliants, such as Agent Orange, which the United States used greatly, and to disastrous health and environmental effects is banned under the current treaty. The United States must live with its crimes and the terrible deformities caused among generations of Vietnamese from the use of Agent Orange. And there is a dangerously subjective sliding scale, as many countries still possess old stockpiles, and riot control agents, such as CS and Pepper spray are widely used by this government primarily as a means to curtail peaceful protesters. But the use of chemical agents directly against troops in combat, including American Troops has not been seen since the horrors of the First World War, when chlorine and chlorine-based agents like the infamous Mustard gas and phosgene gas attacks. Estimates were on some 90,000 total killed in the First World War, with one and a quarter million injured, many of those permanently.
But the widespread use was so repulsive internationally that even amid the wholesale slaughter of the Second World War, the use of Chemical Weapons was anecdotal. After dropping several sulfur bombs on Warsaw in September of 1939, the Nazi government in 1942, amid the war, apologized and stated that the bombs were dropped accidentally. Notably, while the Nazis were apologizing for the sulfur bombs, they were employing Zyklon gas against Jews in concentration camps. But here as well, those Nazis, still pursued to this day, are held accountable under international law. Humanity has drawn a line. It cannot afford to retreat from that line. No one is better prepared to defend that line than the United States, a sad but undeniable reality.
And so we come to the options before the world community, but most particularly the one nation that has the capacity to strike, if only symbolically to send a message that the world will not and cannot retreat from that line. No chemical weapons have been employed against American troops since those terrible days during the First World War, and though the record since is not pristine, there is undeniable progress. And so we know the stakes of inaction, and that would a the abandonment, or indifference, a creeping indifference to the treaty on the use of Chemical weapons which may not be perfect but which has succeeded in virtually eliminating these terrible weapons from the field of battle.
So now that field has become the cities and towns of Syria. The victims are civilians; the old, children, the innocent. For that, as this country did over Saddam’s gassing of civilians, there should be a momentous outcry. Isolationist policies have never served this nation. They failed us at two world wars and contributed to the September 11 attacks. It will certainly not serve us now, and may in turn, I believe , prove a terrible danger.
If this nation believes it can escape the consequences of the attack two weeks ago in Syria, whether or not it acts, it is sorely mistaken. Arguing that “why here and not at some other terrible place on the planet” is a tacit admission of the refusal to start someplace. It is a celebration of the power of doing nothing out of fear, laziness or indifference. to count the cost to the nation is to ignore the billions we toss away to corporations, pay to scavenging military and security contractors or the selfishness of a nation that spends tens of billions on pet and gardening supplies, and which squanders untold billions on incarcerating marijuana smokers. The arguments about Al Qa’eda are a dodge. Quibbling over the exact numbers of dead is cowardly and fake. Iraq was a crime, Afghanistan a farce. Syria is critical…
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