September 10, 2013

Letters to the editor: Use of gas compels action in Syria, Tom Allen says

The invasion of Iraq was the defining catastrophic decision of the George W. Bush administration. I helped lead the fight on the U.S. House floor against the resolution authorizing the president to use all "necessary and appropriate" force against Iraq.

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In a citizen journalism image that’s been authenticated based on AP reporting, Syrians mourn men slain in Arbeen on Aug. 21 in an alleged poisonous gas attack by regime forces. The attack represents a violation of international norms, says former U.S. Rep. Tom Allen.

The Associated Press

The choice America faces in Syria is different. Syrian President Bashar Assad's deliberate decision to attack noncombatants with gas violates international norms developed in reaction to the horrors unleashed by such weapons in World War I. 

For better or worse, only one country, the United States, has sufficient targeted weapons to enforce those norms by military action.

We are tired of war in the Middle East. We cannot control the outcome of the Syrian conflict. But we can and must make clear to Assad that the use of chemical (and biological) weapons will not be tolerated by the world community. If we take no action, we give him a license to do it again and again.

Americans are often uneasy with the responsibilities of power, and we have made mistakes when we intervened (Iraq) and when we did not (Rwanda). The proposed congressional resolution is narrowly limited in time and scope, unlike the Iraq resolution.

From my experience. I know that opponents of proposed action by Congress tend to be more vocal than supporters.

I hope that the House and Senate, and Maine's representatives to both bodies, will understand the moral responsibility America has, not by choice, to do what we can to reduce the danger of wider use of chemical weapons in Syria and beyond.

Tom Allen

former 1st District U.S. representative


I was a strong opponent of both the Iraq war and the effort at regime change in Afghanistan. However, the moral issue in Syrian poison gas attacks is entirely different.

The United States, as well as the rest of the world, has a vital interest in effectively deterring the use of weapons of mass destruction.

Poison gas is a weapon of mass destruction, killing populations wholesale, even though the number of poison gas casualties thus far is a small fraction of the total number of people killed in Syria.

By using chemical weapons against innocent men, women and children, Syrian President Bashar Assad has breached one of the oldest international laws, the 1925 protocol banning the use of poison gas, to which Syria is a party.

International treaties against WMDs are meaningless without a willingness to enforce them. It is clear that enforcement through the United Nations is impossible because of obstruction by Russia and China, and therefore, enforcement becomes the responsibility of nations acting outside the U.N.

Actions by nations to stop moral horrors are rare in history. An inspiring example of moral action not clearly related to short-term national interest is the effective campaign by the British navy 200 years ago to end the Atlantic slave trade. To its shame, the U.S. Navy turned a blind eye to that abhorrent practice, in spite of its being in violation of American law.

The stakes are now much larger than simply resolving the Syrian civil war.

Nuclear weapons are the ultimate weapons of mass destruction. Conclusions about the world's reaction to a future nuclear strike would necessarily be drawn from the world's reaction to poison gas use. Therefore, we must act.

Meredith N. Springer


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