President Obama has called for military action in Syria because the Assad regime has resorted to an unacceptable means to keep killing people.

President Obama during press conference in Stockholm. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters) President Obama during press conference in Stockholm. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Until three weeks ago, when the Syrian government took the step of unleashing chemical weapons in the two-year-old civil war, roughly 100,000 people had been killed by conventional weapons — guns, mortars, airstrikes and the like. But the president’s sole reason for striking Syria is the regime’s latest use of chemical weapons in the outskirts of Damascus, an attack that allegedly killed more than 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.

In his Saturday weekly address, Obama describe death by chemical weapons as “the most indiscriminate and inhumane way possible.” But is that so? Is a cluster bomb any less indiscriminate? Any less inhumane? Any less choosy in whom it maims? A cluster bomb is dropped from a plane or launched from the ground. It contains hundreds of mini-bombs. The cluster bomb explodes in the air; the mini-bombs are released over large swaths of land — football field size — killing or injuring anyone within reach. If the mini-bombs don’t claim a target, they lie there on the ground unexploded, waiting to be stepped on. The Assad regime has used cluster bombs dozens of times. It has also dropped napalm on innocent civilians.

What’s your poison: death by sarin gas, body ripped to shreds by shrapnel or skin burned off from an incendiary mixture of napalm? The Syrian government has resorted to using all three. But only one moves the Obama administration to act. Doesn’t the exclusive focus on chemical weapons tell the Assad regime that other means of destruction at its disposal are acceptable? Is that why — with all of its attendant costs — we are intervening in Syria?