Chemical Weapons In Syria
As President Obama currently mulls over the situation in Syria and for whether the US will get involved, we at home sit and hear the stories of the use of chemical weapons by that nation's government against its own people. Yes, any government using chemical weapons against its people is wrong, but when it comes to US foreign policy, it hasn't always been that way. The way the US has usually determined whether to get involved or turn a blind-eye to those types of attacks usually depends if the government is pro- or anti- American.
So let's back up the story a bit and move it outside of Syria. According to newly released CIA documents, in 1953 the United States overthrew the democratically-elected government of Iran after the Prime Minister there nationalized the oil fields. The US installed the Shah government which was pro-Western. However, the Shah became more autocratic as time passed and the Iranian people rebelled against the government 1978 and forced the Shah to abdicate in 1979. At that point the Ayatollah Khomeini took charge of the country and remains to this day... regardless of who is "elected" the "President" of Iran. Obviously, the Ayatollah is very much anti-Western and anti-American. This sets up our current problem with Iran... something we basically initiated back in 1953.
In neighboring Iraq, the Ba'ath Party overthrew the government in 1968 which gradually came under the control of General Saddam Hussein by July 1979. Roughly a year and a half after the Iranian 1979 Revolution, Iraq invaded Iran initiating the Iraq-Iran War that ended in 1988. The two nations were enemies simply because they were ruled by different sects of the Islamic faith. So why is any of this important, and what does it have to do with our current situation in Syria? According to a recently article in Foreign Policy, the Reagan administration stated that Iraq must win that war against Iran. Why? At the time, Iraq was our ally in the region and our buffer against Iran. During most the war, the United States took a more sideline approach to the whole thing though. They wouldn't give Saddam any tactical surveillance. However, that changed in 1988 when it looked like Iranian forces might take advantage of a hole in the Iraqi line. By the time, according to that same article in Foreign Policy, the Reagan administration was aware that Saddam had authorized the use of mustard gas against his enemies. But seeing how this new tactical advantage of Iran, and how it could spell disaster for Iraq, the Reagan administration decided to change tactics and give Saddam the tactical surveillance that showed the Iranian military positions and locations for certain strategic military facilities knowing already that Saddam would use chemical weapons against them... and he did. This time he used sarin. There is also evidence that the Reagan administration was aware that he used the exact same chemical weapons against the Kurds in northern Iraq. Again, the administration turned a blind eye to these atrocities since it would help Iraq win the war against Iran and Saddam would stay in power.
Needless to say our track record in this particular region isn't the greatest even if we are attempting to do right this time around. The Assad-government in Syria is very anti-Western. It's only allies are generally considered Russia and Iran. This is why the actions of the Syrian government are getting any kind of attention from the US and the Obama government. If the government was pro-Western, then it is likely that the Western governments (the US included) would turn a blind eye and might even offer some support so long as there would be no direct evidence linking us to it. But, we have the opposite scenario which makes our involvement a little easier when it comes to the rebels that are trying to overthrow the authoritarian Assad regime. However, the US may be stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one. Just because the Assad-government is anti-American, doesn't mean the rebels will be pro-American. We could very well be arming and aiding people that will still be anti-American and will not hesitate to turn that technology on us. Again, our track record with this scenario isn't that great either.via Flickr
Syrian forces // Credit: FreedomHouse
I've already discussed how we armed Saddam in Iraq only to go to war against him in the 1990s after he invaded Kuwait and then again in 2003 where we finally overthrew his government. In both instances, he still had use of the military weapons that we had once given to him. When the Soviet Union was at war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, it was the US that armed the Taliban to thwart the Soviets, and yet it was us fighting the Taliban starting in 2001... who were using the exact weapons we had given them to defeat the Soviets against us. Iran is a bigger conundrum in this regard. After we overthrew the government in 1953, we began giving them nuclear technology for nuclear power. It was under the plan "Atoms for Peace." It was increased during the Ford administration under the auspices of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and would continue until the 1979 Revolution. (Persian Rug) And now here we are, all these years later, trying to keep Iran from developing that nuclear technology into a nuclear weapon. Now this still ties into us toppling the Saddam-government in Iraq in 2003. There is the likelihood that Saddam would have taken care of the current situation in Iran if he was still in power since there's no way he'd let them have a nuclear weapon. But Saddam was "bad" and needed to go still. Again, the rock and the hard place. In Egypt during the Arab Spring, canisters of tear gas that had labels "Made in USA" were used against the people. Though we had given the government these canisters long before the uprisings, they were still used against the people and didn't help our public relations any... especially since we had helped keep Mubarak in power in that country for so long since he was our ally despite what he was doing to his own people.
The Syrian government's biggest problem is that they are not allies of the United States and the Western countries. That is what this will all boil down to in the end. It has nothing really to do with the fact that the government used chemical weapons on its people. We are just using that as an excuse though we have allowed other authoritarian regimes use the exact same tactics to stay in power. Using any type of chemical weapon on people is simply wrong. That is not in question, and it does need to be stopped. But let us also be honest about our past history and be constant with any government that chooses this course of action... whether they are an ally or not. And we must tread carefully on how we treat the rebels, as well. There may not be an easy solution to this mess, but let's try to make it to where we aren't fighting against them again... only with them using the weapons we gave them in the first place.
If we do end up engaging in military action, as is looking more like the case, I believe President Obama should go before Congress and the American people (as he is supposed to do) and tell us why we are getting involved, what our objectives are, how we will know once they have been accomplished, and how we will get out in the end.