The U.S. desire to strike Syria is not, and never has been, about chemical weapons. While publicly saying all the right things, the U.S. history in the region, combined with current political factors, indicate that Syria is part of a much larger strategy in the Middle East.
The first thing worth knowing is that the U.S. has at times approved of the use of chemical weapons. Recently revealed CIA documents have shown that the U.S. was not only aware of Saddam Hussein’s chemical warfare in the 80’s, but that we provided him with intelligence on targets, knowing that he intended to use a variety of chemical weapons.
For those who may not recall, the U.S., and specifically President Reagan, had made it very clear that Iran could not be allowed to win the Iraq-Iran war. When it became clear that Iran had a real chance, the U.S. made the decision to provide more operational intelligence to Saddam Hussein, who not only gassed Iranian soldiers, but who also gassed Kurdish rebels towards the end of the war in Northern Iraq.
More recently, U.S. forces were responsible for the use of white phosphorous in the battle of Fallujah during the war on Iraq. While not classified as a chemical weapon, white phosphorous burns are classified as chemical burns. Additionally, the U.S. has frowned down on its use by other countries, and at first lied about its use by our troops, until evidence emerged that it was being used.
This hypocrisy is what makes it so hard to take President Obama’s statements at face value. The President is certainly aware of our well-documented history involving chemical weapons in the Middle East. But if not weapons, what could it be about?
More likely is that the answer has to do with Israel, Russia, and Iran. Syria is Iran’s lone ally in the Middle East. Weakening Syria would do much to weaken Iran, who is seen as Israel’s largest threat in the region. Syria is also a large trading partner with Russia, with whom the U.S. has an adversarial relationship. With Russia providing massive amounts of arms to Syria, there is a belief that this may be a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia/Iran.
And while there are many arguments to be made against those countries the truth is this: Entering a war for reasons other than national defense is a habit the U.S. must break.