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Bear in mind that during the June 1967 war, Israel wrested the Golan Heights from Syria and annexed them in 1981, building settlements in contravention of international law, which forbids acquiring territory via war. While the border between Syria and Israel has been stable all these years, Syria aspires to recover the lost territory and has been willing to negotiate with Israel. "In 2007," Zunes writes, "the United States successfully pressured Israel to reject peace overtures from the Syrian government in which the Syrians offered to recognize Israel and agree to strict security guarantees in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from occupied Syrian territory." Today, Israel's chief American lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is actively promoting an American war against Syria (and Iran).
The U.S. record on chemical weapons is poor in other respects. Zunes reports that the administration of George W. Bush forced the removal of the respected director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which enforces the Chemical Weapons Convention, Brazilian diplomat José Bustani:
[B]y 2002, the United States began raising objections to Bustani’s insistence that the OPCW inspect U.S. chemical weapons facilities with the same vigor it does for other signatories. More critically, the United States was concerned about Bustani’s efforts to get Iraq to sign the convention and open their facilities to surprise inspections as is done with other signatories. If Iraq did so, and the OPCW failed to locate evidence of chemical weapons that Washington claimed Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed, it would severely weaken American claims that Iraq was developing chemical weapons.
Zunes's article also discusses the Reagan administration’s provision of thiodiglycol, which is used to make mustard gas, and other chemical precursors to Iraq's Saddam Hussein:
The March 1988 massacre in the northern Iraqi city of Halabja, where Saddam’s forces murdered up to 5,000 Kurdish civilians with chemical weapons, was downplayed by the Reagan administration, with some officials even falsely claiming that Iran was actually responsible. The United States continued sending aid to Iraq even after the regime’s use of poison gas was confirmed.
From the mainstream media's reporting on the Middle East, one would never know that, as Zunes writes, "Syria has joined virtually all other Arab states in calling for … a 'weapons of mass destruction-free zone' for the entire Middle East. In December 2003, Syria introduced a UN Security Council resolution reiterating this clause from 12 years earlier, but the resolution was tabled as a result of a threatened U.S. veto."
The implications are shocking in light of the current crisis. Zunes argues,
A case can be made, then, that had the United States pursued a policy that addressed the proliferation of non-conventional weapons through region-wide disarmament rather than trying to single out Syria, the Syrian regime would have rid itself of its chemical weapons some years earlier along with Israel and Egypt, and the government’s alleged use of such ordnance — which is now propelling the United States to increase its involvement in that country’s civil war — would have never become an issue.
Clearly we have what Zunes calls "a longstanding pattern of hostility by the United States towards international efforts to eliminate chemical weapons through a universal disarmament regime. Instead, Washington uses the alleged threat from chemical weapons as an excuse to target specific countries whose governments are seen as hostile to U.S. political and economic interests."
We're witnessing the latest episode in that longstanding pattern today.
This column originally appeared in the Future of Freedom Foundation.