One interesting way to view our present issues is to look for precedent. Examples:
1. If the government tried Bradley Manning (as he then styled himself) for divulging information to the enemy (which he didn't), why wasn't Lee Harvey Oswald tried on the same charge?
During his stint in the Marines, Oswald had gained access to many secrets, including those involving the U2 spy plane. In the USSR, he visited the American embassy and loudly announced that he intended to tell the Russians all he knew. Yet the US government offered him no official hindrances (and a large dollop of official help) when he decided to return to the United States. Although defection per se
may have been legal, a threat to spill military secrets obviously should have resulted in a trial. But there was no trial, no inquiry -- not even an on-the-record debriefing.
2. The neocon wing of the Republican party argues that Assad's (alleged) chemical attack warrants not just intervention but regime change. Yet these same neocons revere Ronald Reagan, who, in public speeches, excused the el Mozote massacre perpetrated by the far-right government of El Salvador in 1981.
Some 1000 civilians were brutally slaughtered
at el Mozote:
Men were tortured and shot. Women were tortured and shot. Young women were taken up a hill, raped, and then shot. 146 children, ranging from the ages of 3 days to 14 years, were brutally murdered. Soldiers smashed the skulls of small babies and decapitated older children. Several pregnant mothers were shot, then had large rocks dropped on their stomachs to kill their unborn children.
Later, the soldiers recovered the skulls of murdered children and used them as candle holders. (This is not a propaganda story: Named participants bragged
about their trophies.)
The killers at el Mozote were, in fact, trained
and funded by the U.S. government
When the atrocity was revealed by reporters at the New York Times and the Washington Post, the Reagan administration showed off its new strategy of “perception management,” denying the facts and challenging the integrity of the journalists.
Because of that P.R. offensive, the reality about the El Mozote massacre remained in doubt for almost a decade until the war ended and a United Nations forensic team dug up hundreds of skeletons, including many little ones of children.
By comparison, the 2013 chemical weapon attack in Ghouta, Syria, is estimated (by an organization opposed to Assad) to have killed 355 people. (Other estimates put the number over 1700.) I will be grimly amused by any attempt to argue that what happened at Ghouta was worse than what happened at el Mozote.
Also see here.
(That link goes to an important piece of history which younger readers probably never learned about in school.) One could cite many more examples. Only someone with an absurdly selective notion of morality would argue that America has earned the right to "discipline" Assad.
Which brings us to...
3. Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter (she may even have penned some of his rationalizations of the Salvadoran death squad atrocities), now favors caution on the question of intervening in Syria. While caution is indeed wise, rewriting history is always vile. Yet rewriting history remains a Noonan specialty. There you go again, Peggy
When Saddam used gas against the Kurds it was not immediately known to all the world. It was not common knowledge. The world rued it in retrospect. Syria is different: It is the first obvious, undeniable, real-time, YouTubed use of chemical weapons.
Noonan won't let her audience in on the most important part of the story: The gassing of the Kurds would
have been common knowledge had her beloved Ronald Reagan told what he knew
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.
The 1988 attack was hardly the only such incident. Reagan had kept Saddam's filthy secret for five years...
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.
According to recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials like Francona, the U.S. had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983.
The Reagan administration decided that it was better to let the attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted.
Noonan refuses to acknowledge that this history is
history. She still insists that Ronald Reagan was "the sweetest, most innocent man ever to serve in the Oval Office." Will this woman ever have the decency and humility to admit her own complicity in aiding a government guilty of mass murder?