Monday, Jul 28, 2014
Columns

Chemical warfare and military action against Syria


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It appears that our untrained, inexperienced, incapable and incompetent president is on the verge of unleashing extraordinarily costly, remote-control weapons on Syria's government. Barack Obama apparently has to do that because he naively drew a red line in the sand concerning use of chemical weapons by Syria's embattled dictator. I object to such action, for many significant reasons.

First, let's consider the cost to us. Cruise missiles, which seem likely to be a weapon of choice for Mr. Obama, are reported to cost taxpayers somewhere around $1.5 million each, and the added expense of getting those missiles in place to fire on Syria is in millions of dollars a day. It costs still more millions to suppress air defenses, and then drop sophisticated, guided aerial bombs on specific targets, as we did in Tripoli, just a short time back. We will likely waste billions of dollars in "shock and awe" over Damascus, just as we did in Baghdad and Tripoli. But just think about what those attacks did for us and for the freedom-loving democratic world - nothing! Well, not quite "nothing": The Libyans did blow up our consulate in Benghazi.

Next, how will other nations view our unilateral attack on Syria? Russia, China, and Iran (all major players on the world stage) are friends and supporters of Syria's government; they will therefore likely provide Syria's embattled dictator Bashar Assad with increased military aid - even possibly with some of their own military forces?

And what will be the result of destroying Syria's government, however evil it might be? Are we incapable of learning from the major mistake we made in destroying Libya's government, when there was nothing substantive poised to replace it?

Finally, there's the question of the use of chemical weapons themselves. First, what are they? When you hear or read the term, do you think of nerve gasses, which kill nearly instantaneously, or of other, more traditional but still deadly agents, such as choking or blistering chemicals? But would you also include herbicides (e.g. Agent Orange, as used in Vietnam), napalm and flame throwers? And what about non-lethal chemicals, such as are regularly used, by most nations, to quell riots? If Assad used tear gas against rebels, did he cross Obama's red line? Is that justification for us to spend billions of dollars (borrowed from China) in trying to prove, or accomplish, what?

Now, about the morality of using chemical weapons. Obama's voice in such affairs is heard amplified through the automated mouth of Secretary John Kerry. The use of chemical weapons is thereby said to be barbaric, inhuman, intolerable and a clear violation of man and God's laws. As someone who once taught basic trainees about "Toxic Gasses, Smokes and Incendiaries," I long ago formed a minority opinion on that question. I've experienced just about every kind of non-lethal chemical gas, so I well understand the feeling of being choked by them. I quickly came to a conclusion that I'd as soon be choked by phosgene gas or dropped in my tracks by a nerve agent, as have my belly ripped open by a bayonet, my legs blown off by an IED or my face fried by napalm. As I see it, war is fundamentally wrong, but once embroiled in it, any way you can destroy the enemy is "fair." Trying to make moral, legal rules and judgments about the conduct of totally amoral war is asinine, at best.

The United States of America should stay clear of the mess in Syria. We cannot afford, morally or financially, to set foot in that quicksand. We hope, Mr. President, that between endless rounds of golf on exclusive courses, or regular vacations that cost the rest of us billions of dollars, you may be listening to someone other than your retinue of "yes-man" lackeys. Keep us out of involvement in Syria!

Of Cabbages and Kings is a syndicated column by J.G. Nash. Relevant comment may be sent to him at jgn@jgnash.com.

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