President Obama and other Western European leaders are considering military action in response to alleged chemical strikes near Damascus. However in just about a generation ago, the United States government and presumably their Western allies knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen.
According to Foreign Policy:
“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 Saddam 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.
“U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein’s government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.”
Talk Of Strike On Syria Moves On
With U.S. officials saying there is little doubt that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime used chemical weapons on the Syrian people last week, and with U.S. Navy ships moving toward that country’s coast, it now seems to be a question of “when” not “whether” America will strike military targets inside that nation, according Aaron David Miller, a public policy scholar at the Washington, D.C.-based research center.
What would be the goal of a strike in coming days — most likely cruise missiles fired at “command and control” centers of the Syrian military?
“I suspect it will not be an effort to fundamentally change the battlefield balance,” Miller told Morning Edition host Renee Montagne. “In effect, it will try to be a strike that looks to alter Assad’s behavior, not the regime itself.”
One reason the U.S. and its allies might not try to topple Assad with any missile strikes is that the forces fighting his regime include militant Islamists who swear allegiance to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.