Bashar al-Assad has allegedly crossed what President Obama called a “red line” using chemical weapons against up to 1,000 people. The threat of chemical weapons and other WMD by such unsavory characters as Saddam Hussein was the major pretext for “preemptive” war with Iraq.
President George W. Bush argued that regime change was necessary due to the fact that Hussein used these awful weapons in the Iraq-Iran war and against the Kurds. In this post 9/11 world, “outlaw regimes,” particularly those he dubbed the “Axis of Evil” (Iraq, Iran, and North Korea) were a threat to the civilized world which could no longer be tolerated. Chemical weapons are so taboo, after all, even the Nazis opted not to use chemical weapons on the battlefield!*
But as this article in Foreign Policy points out in analyzing declassified CIA documents, the use of these weapons was not so taboo inside the CIA at the time when Saddam Hussein used them against Iran (yes, the very same event which would later be cited as a reason to attack Iraq about a decade and a half later):
In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.
The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.
U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein’s government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.
“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” he told Foreign Policy.
It seems that U.S. foreign policy is quite hypocritical, no? Using chemical weapons are fine as long as they are being used against a nation the administration at the time happens to dislike, for whatever reason…until a later administration decides differently. While the use of chemical weapons is very inhumane and rightfully condemned by the civilized world, the U.S. hardly has the moral high ground in deciding where any red line is or what action should be taken whenever it is crossed.**
*Not that the Nazis had some sort of moral objection to using such weapons when exterminating the Jews. The reason these weapons weren’t used on the battlefield was probably due to the difficulty in using chemical weapons in anything other than ideal weather conditions and that they did not want the Allies to use the weapons used against them.
**Assuming there is no direct threat to national security of the U.S.