But as she quickly pointed out, the convention only went into force in 1997 “and since then, we haven’t actually seen a massive use of chemical weapons in the same way that we just saw recently.”
Of course, that won’t sell well in Iran and other countries in the Middle East and South Asia that were reminded as recently as Monday of the Reagan administration’s posture. In the late 1980s, not only did the Reagan White House take no action when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iranian forces and his own people but the United States also aided the attacks by providing intelligence.
Monday’s Tehran Times wrote: “U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Saddam Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent,” repeating information published Monday by Foreign Policy on its Web site.
But Obama’s troubles are deeper still.
Already, critics have lined up. They say whatever military response he authorizes will expand the Syrian bloodshed or have no effect at all on the Assad regime. It will be the beginning of a greater U.S. involvement in Syria’s civil war or, if not followed up, will encourage the Syrians to use chemicals again.
At home, Obama faces lawmakers’ demands that he seek congressional approval for any action, based on the 1973 War Powers Resolution. Forget that every president since has essentially paid lip service to its provisions.
Or how about the lawmakers who say none of this would have been necessary if the United States, more than a year ago, had provided extensive military support for a no-fly zone and safe area within Syria to train the opposition — all without congressional approval.
I won’t even deal with the armchair generals who question what weapons to use and where. Then there are the historians and lawyers who want to bring in precedents such as Kuwait, Kosovo or Libya, citing moral and international laws.
Not that Obama needs any more guidance, but perhaps we in the public should pause for a moment and put ourselves in his shoes.
I thought of the saying, “First, do no harm.”
Its possible origins, most likely ancient Greek Hippocratic writing Epidemics, is even more pertinent:
“The physician must be able to tell the antecedents, know the present, and foretell the future — must mediate these things, and have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm.”
Substitute Syria for disease and maybe it’s applicable as a concept. Think of it as extended Obamacare.
For previous Fine Print columns, go to washingtonpost.com/fedpage.