Weapons of Moral Hypocrisy

By - October 17, 2013

One country has a chemical weapons stockpile that's three times as large as another country, yet denounces the latter country for having any at all. Which countries are these? They are the United States and Syria, respectively. Politics as usual includes hypocritical pronouncements of "moral" outrage.

It might seem that there is a "red line" in warfare that must not be crossed or that, when crossed, should trigger a response. That is the premise of the mess in Syria and the Obama administration's talk of possible attacks. Certainly chemical weapons are nasty and brutal, although they have killed only a tiny fraction of the people killed in Syria's civil war -- the rest were killed in other ways, and none of those ways are pleasant either.

But the idea that this is a moral and humanitarian response is a bit unbelievable. The United States has long been silent when nations that are "friends" do terrible things, and this includes their use of chemical weapons. Saddam Hussein used mustard gas against the Iranians in 1983, and the Reagan administration did not object. Foreign Policy magazine recently reported that in 1987 sarin gas was used on the Iranians repeatedly after the U.S. government gave Hussein an intelligence report showing an invasion was imminent. More than 20,000 were killed in this case. Saddam killed more than 5,000 Kurds in his own country with sarin gas and the U.S. government again ignored the use of this brutal weapon. Only later, when Iraq became an enemy, did such incidents start to get attention and condemnation from our leaders.

Add to the history of U.S. tolerance for "friendly" use of chemical weapons the fact that the United States has still not eliminated its own stockpiles of these. The Huffington Post reports that, "Three decades after the U.S. started destroying its own chemical weapons, the nation's stockpile stands at more than 3,000 tons – about three times what the U.S. now says Syrian President Bashar Assad controls." I suspect that thirty years was enough time to destroy the stockpiles if the commitment was there (when the United States signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1993 it agreed to a deadline of 2007, later moved to 2012), and we should suspect that any harsh words about others owning or using these weapons is politically motivated.

I would stop there, but there is more to say, and more evidence that these matters are political rather than moral concerns, at least for those who are in power. Consider the cluster bomb, for example. As Wikipedia explains;

"Because cluster bombs release many small bomblets over a wide area they pose risks to civilians both during attacks and afterwards. During attacks, the weapons are prone to indiscriminate effects, especially in populated areas. Unexploded bomblets can kill or maim civilians and/or unintended targets long after a conflict has ended, and are costly to locate and remove."

The Wikipedia report also notes that decades after the war in Vietnam ended, people are still being killed as a result of cluster bombs left there by the U.S. They are now prohibited by the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was adopted in Dublin, Ireland in May 2008, but the government here did not ratify the agreement. The U.S has used these weapons most recently in (the former) Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. You would think that the President and others in government here would be pushing to outlaw these nasty civilian killers. Surely wars can be won without them.

Another example of a weapon that probably kills more civilians than military personnel is the land mine. The United Nations says they kill 15,000 to 20,000 people annually, and that most victims are children, women and the elderly. The numbers injured by them (losing legs and other body parts) is even greater. And though the United States has not used land mines in recent conflicts, the government here refuses to sign an international ban on land mines.

Note: I suspect that some of you will argue that the examples here are from times when other administrations were in charge in Washington. But according to businessinsider.co, this year the United States sold 1,300 cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. Yes, despite objections from human rights advocates, our government approved a sale of these horrible weapons to a country that is ruled by an authoritarian monarchy and routinely violates the most fundamental human rights (particularly targeting women). Moreover, Obama certainly could, if he was concerned about these issues for truly humanitarian reasons, push allies like Egypt and Israel to ratify the CWC and destroy their arsenals of chemical weapons (Israel is thought to have biological weapons as well).

It's not paranoid nor cynical to suspect that some of these weapons are not outlawed because manufacturing them (or parts for them) generates big profits for U.S. companies. It's just common sense. Big companies with big profits spend a lot of money in Washington to make sure that lawmakers do not change the system.

Wouldn't it be refreshing to have one president someday have the courage to say, "We do not need to use weapons that are so dangerous to civilians, so I have ordered the branches of our military to immediately start destroying all of our stockpiles." Don't hold your breath waiting for that announcement. Condemnations of others who have the weapons will suffice for this political theater.

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Weapons of Moral Hypocrisy