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April 26, 2013 at 12:29 PM

Do chemical weapons make a civil war in Syria our business?

I am reading our page-one story, “Syria likely crossed line on nerve agents, U.S. says” (April 26). It is really The Washington Post’s story, which makes me feel freer to bellyache about it. What bothers me is the assumptions it makes about the U.S. government’s responsibility and authority in the world.

The whole thing is written from the view of a policeman. The story says the Syrian government has probably used chemical weapons, but not for sure, but if they did, it “crosses a ‘red line’” and “puts President Obama under new pressure to respond.”  The story quotes the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, D-NJ, saying that the use of chemical weapons “forces us to consider all options to how we act to influence the balance of the conflict.”

Why does it do this? Why does the possible use of a chemical weapon in Syria by the Syrian government force the U.S. government to consider any intervention? One writer argues in The Washington Post, chemical weapons are particularly suited to killing civilians, and there have been agreements since the 1920s not to use them. Then again, ordinary high explosives are pretty useful for killing civilians, too, and as another writer argues in The Christian Science Monitor, there is no moral difference between killing civilians with bullets, bombs or gas. It’s all horrible.

The story highlights a political argument between our Democratic administration and congressional Republicans. It says House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, “accused the administration of outsourcing national security to the United Nations.”

Both sides assume a civil war in Syria compromises U.S. security. Why? Syria is far away. It is neither big nor rich nor possessing intercontinental weapons. It is not attacking our NATO ally, Turkey, or any other country. It has a civil war. Why is our government even thinking about sending in U.S. soldiers?

In raising the specter of foreign war, the article uses language that cushions American ears. It speaks of the “ardent proponents of greater U.S. help for the Syrian opposition.”

Help. To intervene in another country’s civil war is  helping. “Last week the Pentagon said additional U.S. troops would go to Jordan to help cope with a flood of refugees crossing the border from Syria, but also to plan for possible responses to any outbreak of chemical warfare.” Soldiers help cope. They respond. The people who want them to help cope, and respond, are ardent. Not pro-intervention or pro-war, just ardent. The troops would be dealing with an outbreak of chemical warfare, like doctors fighting an outbreak of ebola fever. The article carefully avoids describing possible U.S. involvement with words like fight, attack, bomb, invade and war. We’d be helping. You know, like the Peace Corps.

Comments | Topics: syria


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