A chilling ethical can of worms opens up as soon as we contemplate the barbaric nerve gas attacks in Syria and the equally barbaric behaviour of the Free Syrian fighters who lined up captive soldiers, shirtless and trembling on the ground, and shot them in the head. Who, if anyone, has the moral high ground to decide who the “good guys” are and which side is on the “wrong side of history?”
To Obama, Assad’s nerve gas attacks crossed the moral red line, but how can America draw the line there when it's America who has repeatedly violated this boundary over the past half century in Dresden, Vietnam and Hiroshima?
What about the hundreds of thousands of civilians that were killed under false pretences in Iraq? And what about President Obama’s drone program, his kill-lists and assassinations squads? Why can Obama sit in the White House in his crisp suit and demand that a Pakistani or Yemini man who might one day be a terrorist be killed later that afternoon, but it’s not okay for Assad to gas his bloodthirsty enemies? Over the next few days we will ask: “Where do we draw the line? Who, if anyone, has the moral high ground?”
As we hear Obama's totalizing indignation at the use of chemical weapons in Syria, we can't help but remember the US military's controversial and illegal use of white phosphorus against Iraqis. White Phosphorus, first used in Vietnam, is often compared to napalm because it combusts the instant it has contact with oxygen, and then, it can immediately burn through skin to bone. Over the last few weeks, America has displayed itself as an international MoralSuperior, the singular force that will set right the backward, unredeemed nations of the earth, where those who transgress their standards are threatened with "punishment" …. for the same crimes America committed in Iraq.
The use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium in Iraq are a violation of the same international law Obama is now righteously defending. As we see the piles of dead children in Damascus, we're reminded of the pictures of deformed babies in Fallujah, Iraq. On August 29, 2013, a decade after the US invasion of Iraq, Al Jazeera reporter Dahr Jamail points to videos of babies born in Iraq with horrendous defects and malformations. This is the legacy the morally upright US left in Iraq. Jamail says, “we are seeing a rate of congenital malformations in the city of Fallujah that has surpassed even that in the wake of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that nuclear bombs were dropped on at the end of World War II.”
Meanwhile, as Assad admits to its chemical weapons stash and considers handing it over to avoid attack, Obama remains hot to strike. Though Obama’s receiving much dissension from the public and from Congress, he reminds the public that he still retains the (somewhat dictatorial) right to order strikes, noting, “I’ve ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails. Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks. Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver.”
And if the US military does attack Assad, they'll be fighting on the same side as al Qaeda… an interesting twist to ponder on the anniversary of 9/11.