Before the Russian public had even awakened to learn of the U.S. attack on the Syrian airbase, Donald Trump had justified the attack by referring to the “beautiful babies” that had had the life choked out of them by chemical weapons deployed earlier by the Syrian government.
In a short, 250-word speech stuffed with religious references and claims to moral action, he referenced chemical weapons five times and called on the “civilized” to oppose the “barbaric.”
Panels of CNN pundits responded by goading each other to outrage over Syria’s use of “weapons of mass destruction.”
There’s nothing acceptable about nerve gas attacks, but what weapon in today’s arsenals, including the 59 cruise missiles rained down on the Syrian airbase, is not a weapon of mass destruction?
Of course, it’s criminal that 100 innocents died and 400 were injured in the gas attack. But how is it any more criminal than the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria that killed as many as 1,000 civilians just last month?
On March 17, nearly 300 were killed and an untold number injured in a single airstrike in Mosul. The U.S. admitted there was “at least a fair chance” they were responsible, while Iraqi counter-terrorism officials blamed Islamic State.
Islamic State doesn’t even have airplanes, so let’s assume the Americans were right about their culpability.
Did the historically important airstrike, which according to the L.A. Times resulted in “the largest civilian death toll since the battle against Islamic State began more than two years ago and (was) among the deadliest incidents in decades of modern warfare,” get adequate media coverage?
Or, does adequate coverage require Trump to create a hoopla that no respectable media outlet can ignore?
The crucial point is that the classic distinction between weapons of mass destruction and other kinds of weapons is a false one. The red lines that pundits say cannot possibly be crossed are arbitrary and meaningless.
We should not believe for an instant that it was morally or militarily necessary for the U.S. to respond to the gas attack by launching its own weapons of mass destruction.