As you may have heard, Obama is currently considering whether or not to unilaterally start another unnecessary foreign war of choice – this time in Syria. For some bizarre reason that seems to make sense to absolutely everyone but me, “chemical weapons” are the main focus and obsession this time. The American government has its propaganda-machine in full gear trying to convince anyone still willing to listen that Assad did in fact use chemical weapons on the opposition, the implication being that, if true, this obviously means we should throw away perfectly good American lives in an attempt to officiate a foreign civil war. The American media is devoting all kinds of time and resources on examining whether Assad used chemical weapons or not. Obama previously identified the use of chemical weapons as a “red line” which, if crossed, would provoke American intervention. The neocons, meanwhile, are insisting that we have a “moral obligation” to protect those who might be potential victims of Assad’s chemical weapon attacks. In response to all of this, I have exactly one question.
What exactly makes chemical weapons so special that their use requires American intervention when the use of “regular weapons” does not? Should we not be basing decisions on whether to commit American troops to die in a foreign civil war on something- anything – else? This is really going to be the deciding factor, the type of weapons used by one side? Not the amount of people killed? Not whose grievance is more legitimate? Not which side more clearly benefits American national interests? But the way in which one side chooses to kill its opposition?
I’m hardly an expert on weaponry, so feel free to correct me if I’m off-base here, but my understanding is that generally speaking, the reason we tend to view chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons as “worse” than conventional weaponry is their capacity for large-scale, indiscriminate, slaughter. It’s not necessarily that chemical weapons are somehow inherently more immoral than bullets and machetes, but rather, it’s that they are easier to deploy on a greater number of people.
But that doesn’t seem to really be the issue right now in Syria. We can’t even positively determine if a single chemical weapon attack has really occurred or not. Even if it has, nobody at all is insinuating that it was some kind of massive attack, the scale of which demands a response.
Look at it this way, what if we were only talking about one death? Say two groups get in a fight. One member of Group A kills one member of Group B with a gun. In retaliation, one member of Group B kills one member of Group A with nerve gas. Does this really mean that a neutral third-party should automatically intervene on behalf of Group A, because Group B is immorally using chemical weapons? Of course not, there is an equal amount of blood on the hands of both groups here.
I can definitely sympathize with anyone who desires to ignore the issues surrounding a potential war in Syria. It’s already a catastrophic mess, and it’s only going to get worse with American involvement, which means that American involvement is probably all but assured. There’s virtually zero chance of anything even remotely resembling a happy ending to this one. But for those of us who are going to keep up with it, and enter the debate on whether or not American intervention is appropriate, we must refuse to debate on false pretenses. Do not let anyone attempt to argue as if “Assad used chemical weapons,” is somehow an automatic justification for entering an unnecessary foreign war. Force them to elaborate. The wheels are already in motion on this and there probably isn’t much we can do to stop it, but we can still hold the intellectual high ground by refusing to concede the argument to an improper, illogical, and incomplete justification for war.