The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a hearing on Syria featuring Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey. Kerry just finished his opening remarks, in which he reiterated his very flawed argument that we know with absolute certainty that the Assad regime was behind the gas attacks. I keep asking them to do better, but they don’t seem to be able to do better. It was with some substantial bitterness that I listened to Kerry say that history does not look kindly on Saddam Hussein’s chemical attacks or his enablers, without mentioning that we were among his enablers.
In contrast to today’s wrenching debate over whether the United States should intervene to stop alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government, the United States applied a cold calculus three decades ago to Hussein’s widespread use of chemical weapons against his enemies and his own people. 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.
In the documents, the CIA said that Iran might not discover persuasive evidence of the weapons’ use — even though the agency possessed it. Also, the agency noted that the Soviet Union had previously used chemical agents in Afghanistan and suffered few repercussions.
We are not constrained by the moral errors of the past, but to see history revised this way is sickening. The world is not as forgetful as we would like.