Chemical warfare has been used in contravention of Chemical weapons conventions since the end of the Second World War. This is undeniable. What begs the question is the selective way that we choose to react to its use.
For instance the extreme Left has claimed, not without justification, that white phosphorous is a chemical weapon. That it does not produce mass casualties is irrelevant, they would say. In fact this polemical response to atrocity is little more than a sound bite that makes the interlocutor appear radical rather than being the reactionary rant of a favoured son (or daughter) trapped by their own uncomfortable reality. British Member of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn is a Palestine Solidarity Campaign Patron and an obsessively anti-Israel campaigner so perhaps he is a little bit biased when he compares white phosphorous to Sarin gas.
Often from a position of discomfort the Left will retreat behind a wall of conspiracy. The British MP George Galloway stated that Israel is to blame for Arab violence and if chemical weapons were used in Syria, then it was al-Qaeda that used them and not the Shiite regime. Many people call George an antisemite. He would of course be the first to deny this. It does not help that he is on the payroll of Press TV which is the mouthpiece of the radical Iranian regime. But it does make him a hypocrite who is impelled by his loyalties to make every possible excuse for Islamic terror. And it is one of those gigantic crosses the Left is always too happy for someone else to carry on their behalf. Blaming another settles the corrupt conscience. Labels create the false connection that the professional requires to weave his lies into his (or her) tapestry of deception. It is what we call ‘propaganda’.
The following is a list of known acts of chemical warfare that followed the end of WW2 (first three examples provided by Wikipedia):
- North Yemen Civil War – July 1967 – Minimum 1,500 killed 1,500 injured by mustard and phosgene gas
- Iran–Iraq War (1980-1988) – 50,000 Iranian soldiers killed by Mustard Gas plus unknown number of Iranian civilians. But note: these are only initial deaths as long term fatalities are at least double this figure.
- March1988 Iraq used chemical weapons on Halabja – a Kurdish town that supported Iran against Iraq – 5,000 civilians died in the initial attack.
- The Kurdish–Turkish conflict. Germany reported that Turkey had used chemical weapons against the Kurds, on multiple occasions, latterly in 2012. No casualty figures are given.
It behoves me to point out that the widespread use of Agent Orange by America, during the Vietnam War is also noted as an example of chemical warfare.
The Syrian government called the allegation that they carried out the killing of 1429 civilians (including 426 children) on August 21st 2013: “fabrications, lies and false accusations.”
Realistically there is no way other than by the admission of guilt that we may be certain of the identity of the perpetrators of these latest crimes against humanity in Syria. What is demonstrably true is that the Syrian opposition choreographed the press release, neatly wrapping little bodies so that they could display them for the grateful foreign press. It does not mean a war-crime did not occur. However ignoring adult casualties for the greater propaganda value of the child victim is a particularly egregious act of cynical exploitation. It degrades the victim so that in their deaths they become no more than useful objects. It is a sanitised display for an armchair society.
One of the current theories is that President Bashar al-Assad’s brother Maher, carried out the atrocity as an act of revenge for his own thwarted ambitions. But he has not been seen since the bombing that wounded him and killed his brother-in-law in July 2012. And there are rumours he succumbed to those wounds.
In law we are supposed to seek out the burden of proof and that proof is going to be almost impossible to conclusively provide. With historical precedents and a less gullible public we have become distrustful of governments and their imaginative means for creating casus belli. During the period from February 2011 until 21st August 2013 between 83,000 and 110,000 people died in the Syrian Civil War. Accurate civilian casualties are impossible to collate because both sides have their own dishonest agenda. The majority of civilian deaths were not collateral damage but war-crimes and there has been an abundance of video proof to demonstrate the crimes committed by both sides against combatants. So another 1,400 deaths while terrible should excite us no more than previous fatalities.
But they do excite us, and for a simple reason. The history of human warfare is one of killing civilians. The development of a civilised world means recognising that civilians should be placed outside of the attention of military action. We have imperfect conventions that do not easily capture the modern problem of irregular soldiers, civilians who take up arms and terrorists (or freedom fighters). Many on the Left view all civilians as collaborators in the regime under which they live and therefore, legitimate military targets. And there are theologies that view all victims as sacrifices for their God’s ultimate victory over the infidel. So it hardly comes as a surprise that death in war is a political rather than a humanitarian issue. The reason we try to keep to the rules of war on non-conventional weapons use is that the potential for mass destruction is all that much greater. If we are to try to protect the civilian population from the depredations of war it is of greater importance to sanction governments because individuals are less likely to commit atrocities than governments. That, at least, is the principle.
Then we recall the Khmer Rouge and Rwanda.
On January 14, 2013, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an international inquiry into what “may amount to crimes against humanity” in the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. I am quoting liberally from an essay in the World Affairs Journal for July/August 2013. The DPRK’s hunger-increase rate from the 1990s, when one of the most devastating famines in the last century claimed the lives of between two and three and a half million people, is the highest in the world despite considerable international humanitarian assistance.
To seek reason in mass murder is to pander to prejudice. Why we chose to highlight some conflicts and to ignore others is simple. Politics has neutered the UN. Its usefulness is measured in the money it spreads around to the elite members of corrupt regimes and the political lackeys whose chauvinism is given protected status by the world body more concerned with protecting the reactionary status quo than creating a humane world.
Syria is an ethnic and religious mix of mutually intolerant groups. Each group fears for its survival or demands historical justice. Sunnis at 60% of the population hate their Shiite overlords. Even if al-Qaeda (which is Sunni) did not have the technical ability or logistics to be able to launch an effective gas attack against Damascus, Russia will block any move to sanction the regime in Syria because first, it does not want to lose prestige – influence – Syria is their country; and second, resurgent military dominance is dependent on successfully defending its ally.
So the Syrian civil war is unlikely to find an overall ‘winner’ – unless an even bigger bully is able to come in on the side of one of the combatants once all of them have exhausted supplies, men and the spirit to fight on. That could take years and many more deaths.
The Galloway’s of this world will willingly conspire to blame the Jews or the Zionists. Many a comment in the social media has stated that the US and Europe will ultimately do Israel’s bidding. Yet Israel has made it abundantly clear that it derives no benefit from regime change or, from the continuation of the Alawite status quo. Arab nationalism has created a self-replicating venom coursing through its internationalist veins. The Arab world has no interest in peace with Israel unless that peace derives a financial benefit. “Peace” is seen as no more than a stage towards the eventual elimination of a non-Arab contaminant in the Arab sea. To embellish the wisdom of President Shimon Peres: Israel is an island of tranquillity floating in a toxic ocean of ethnic (and religious) bile.
Julius Cesar said “Men willingly believe what they wish to be true.” If we seek simple solutions to complex problems we create even greater damage than if we leave well enough alone.
The definition of a sociopath (according to Dictionary.com) is: a person afflicted with a personality disorder characterized by a tendency to commit antisocial and sometimes violent acts (and a failure to feel guilt for such acts). A person with a religious mania may feel justified in committing acts of horrifying cruelty that no normal human being would be capable of contemplating. This passion defines many fundamentalists for whom the ends will always justify the means. And there are lots of preachers that will encourage them in their mission. It is the greatest failure of organized religion.
If the Shiite regime falls al-Qaeda could easily take control of Syria. Christians have been executed because of their faith. There have been unconfirmed reports that Al-Qaeda has committed atrocities against Kurds in Northern Syria. The Sunnis would not like the Kurds to gain self-determination. The most respected military leader in Arab history, the man who defeated the crusaders was Saladin the Kurd. A united Kurdish nation would weaken at least four Muslim nations that currently seek to aggressively undermine peaceful international co-existence by their chauvinistic expansionist dreams.
It is our indecision that makes us appear pathetic to our ideological adversaries. War is a serious matter. But dithering makes us appear not just weak but cowardly. It does not bode well for when there is a real international crisis. The slaughterers will always celebrate their bloodlust and there are few if any recorded differences between the past actions of secular Muslims and those that worship the Muslim Brotherhood. Both demand continuous tribute from their enemies. The Assad families thirst for blood might shame even the Brotherhood but al-Qaeda lacks only the weapons of mass destruction to fulfill its ‘destiny.’ It is for this reason alone that intervention is complicated. Depose one dictatorship and another will take its place. There are no guarantees that the replacement will be any better but it could easily be much worse. And that is a scenario we do not want on our consciences, no matter how tainted they may be.
Syrian intervention is justified, as it is in North Korea and many more places beside.
The fundamental issues of inequality and oppression that afflict Islamic societies have not been addressed. It makes the likelihood of regime change making any kind of difference, extremely doubtful. In fact it will only increase resentment and hatred towards the non-Muslim world.
It is naïve to believe that words can change people or nations behaviour. It seems that President Obama truly believes in the transformative power of his oratory. From his first speech to the Muslim world as President (delivered in Cairo in June 2009) he promised “A New Beginning.” He spoke of “a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
President Obama’s failure was then, as it is now, that he refuses to acknowledge the essence of what drives contemporary Muslim interactions with the rest of the world. One Arab spokesman made the following point when asked about the prospect for an American intervention in Syria. He said:
“If a strike benefits Muslims and Arabs then it is good but not if it is for their (US) own interest.” What this moral Muslim gentleman intimated by his sage words was this: If any of Syria’s minorities are helped out by American intercession in Syria then the slaughter should continue.