| Global Times | 2013-5-1 21:33:01
By Charles Gray
While the US may have ceased combat operations in Iraq, that legacy of that war continues to influence US foreign policy, most recently in regards to the claims that Syria has used chemical weapons against rebels and civilians in the current conflict.
In fact, the damage the Iraqi conflict did to US credibility may be a core reason why the Obama administration is currently seeking independent confirmation regarding the use of chemical weapons by Syria. Furthermore, the specter of another long quagmire in the Middle East is certain to make the US reluctant to take unilateral action.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was sparked by similar claims that the regime possessed and was preparing to use chemical or biological weapons. According to the US, then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had an active Weapon of mass destruction (WMD) program, which justified the Iraqi invasion.
Perhaps the most egregious claim, one used to push the Senate into passing the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002 was that Iraq not only had WMDs but also possessed UAV delivery systems that could be used to directly attack the US.
These claims turned out to be false, but by the time that fact became obvious, the US was already deeply embroiled in the Iraqi quagmire.
In fact, it is difficult to find a single US allegation regarding Iraq's development, production or fielding of chemical or biological weapons that was not eventually proven false.
Ultimately, the US was reduced to making the unprovable claim that had UN restrictions ever been lifted, Hussein would have likely resumed his WMD projects.
The conclusion that many came to was that the US had knowingly overstated the evidence, in order to justify an invasion that the nation decided to launch.
Because of this, it has become far more difficult to convince other nations to uncritically accept assertions of the possession or use of WMDs.
The exaggerations and outright fabrications that were part and parcel of the US case for war against Iraq make it difficult for many outside observers to be completely accepting of independent US claims regarding Syria's use of WMDs.
Furthermore, the use of this evidence to justify a conflict against a leader the US desired to remove from power has a number of similarities with the current US relationship with the Bashar al-Assad regime.
That much of the "evidence" for the Iraqi WMD program came from dissidents and exiles such as Rafid Ahmad Alwan al-Janabi, or "curveball," who later admitted to making up extravagant lies, makes it even more important that the current claims of WMD usage be verified by a number of independent sources.
The Syrian rebels would benefit greatly from US or NATO intervention, and because of this, any claims made by or for them must be met with skepticism until they can be independently proven.
This is especially important given that the videos purporting to show the effect of chemical weapons remain unverified by independent authorities.
Any military action in Syria will demand a long-term commitment and would be very likely to result in unexpected consequences.
Moreover, such an open-ended military commitment is unlikely to be appreciated by the US public and overstretched US military.
It would be politically impossible to sustain any commitment of ground forces, as opposed to the use of US air assets, whether manned or drone, to support the rebels.
These two factors have combined to create a situation where the Obama administration, having established a "red line" in relation to the Syrian use of chemical weapons, finds itself needing outside corroboration of this fact.
The specter of Iraq makes it very likely that no matter what evidence the US government provides, many groups and individuals will doubt its truthfulness.
And US allies will be wary of committing to an operation that may stretch long beyond its original mandate, especially if Syria collapses into chaos.
If the US or any other party is to take action, then that action must be backed by solid, verifiable evidence that WMDs have in fact been used by the Syrian government.
Failing to do will leave the Iraqi adventure hanging over any future action in Syria, making it difficult to organize the effective multi-lateral action needed to effectively address this civil conflict.
The author is a freelance writer based in Corona, California. firstname.lastname@example.org
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