Glenn Kessler reports: One of the administration’s main arguments for attacking Syria is because the government crossed an important line by using chemical weapons against its own people.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a strong supporter of military strikes, echoed that argument on Tuesday. She noted that as far back as 1925, nearly 40 nations had joined together to ban the first use of chemical weapons when the Geneva Protocol was signed. (Her mention of 170 countries appears to refer to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which seeks to prohibit the production of chemical weapons and mandates their destruction; Syria has refused to sign the treaty, though 189 other countries have signed it.)
Such treaties generally do not have mechanisms for enforcement. As far as we know, no nation has ever attacked another to punish it for the use of chemical weapons, so Obama’s request is unprecedented.
Indeed, Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile results from a never-acknowledged gentleman’s agreement in the Middle East that as long as Israel had nuclear weapons, Syria’s pursuit of chemical weapons would not attract much public acknowledgement or criticism. (The Fact Checker, when serving as The Washington Post’s diplomatic correspondent, learned of this secret arrangement from Middle Eastern and Western diplomats, but it was never officially confirmed.) These are the sorts of trade-offs that happen often in diplomacy. After all, Israel’s nuclear stockpile has never been officially acknowledged, and Syria in the 1980s and 1990s was often supportive of U.S. interests in the region, even nearly reaching a peace deal with Israel.
But there is an even more striking instance of the United States ignoring use of the chemical weapons that killed tens of thousands of people — during the grinding Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s. As documented in 2002 by Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs, the Reagan administration knew full well it was selling materials to Iraq that was being used for the manufacture of chemical weapons, and that Iraq was using such weapons, but U.S. officials were more concerned about whether Iran would win rather than how Iraq might eke out a victory. Dobbs noted that Iraq’s chemical weapons’ use was “hardly a secret, with the Iraqi military issuing this warning in February 1984: ”The invaders should know that for every harmful insect, there is an insecticide capable of annihilating it . . . and Iraq possesses this annihilation insecticide.” [Continue reading…]
Just in case anyone doubts that Bashar al-Assad has genocidal intentions much like those of Saddam Hussein, in an interview this week he made it clear that the only way he thinks he can deal with his opponents is “to annihilate them.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said there is no longer hope for a political solution to the conflict in Syria and that the only way to deal with the rebels challenging his leadership “is to annihilate them.”
In an interview with Le Figaro, a French newspaper, Assad claimed that rebel forces had been almost entirely infiltrated by al-Qaeda.
“We are fighting terrorists,” he said. “80-90% of those we are fighting belong to al-Qaeda. They are not interested in reform or in politics. The only way to deal with them is to annihilate them.”