Populism, chemical weapons, and Syria

I have honestly asked people many times to explain to me why exactly chemical weapons are so extra-special awful as to merit a worldwide backlash against their use.  Make no mistake, chemical weapons are indeed horrible things and I do not question that for a fraction of a second.  What I am asking is what makes them quantifiably worse than conventional weapons such as bullets, bombs, and fire?  Honestly, I think people in the modern world have a very skewed idea of what war is actually like and what “conventional” weapons are capable of, and it’s largely due to the sanitization of such things in popular media.  How many cop dramas and war movies have you ever seen where someone gets shot and the result is a little red spot on their clothing, and they fall over?  Or where someone gets blown up by a grenade and instead of being shredded into hamburger they just fly up into the air and fall like a rag doll?  In the real world, bullets inflict actual damage and not just clean puncture wounds–you can get blasted clear in half by a shotgun or have limbs taken off by even moderate-caliber firearms, to say nothing of the actual effects of explosives on living flesh.  Fire is a little harder to clean up but then what we usually see is an immolated body running screaming off camera and nothing of the aftermath.  It takes a hardcore movie like “We Were Soldiers” to show the actual wounds (or a special-effects approximation thereof) inflicted by a napalm burn.  Network television hasn’t desensitized anyone to violence but it has given us all a warped idea of what weapons can do.

By contrast, whenever a supervillain deploys a chemical or biological agent, it seems to be the makeup and effects departments’ job to play THAT angle up as far as it’ll go.  Maybe because you can get the same shock value out of oozing slime and discolored skin without the attendant blood that would necessarily be accompanying such injuries in the real world, I don’t know.  Chemicals can also be exotic and outright fictional along with fanciful biological agents, although it’s hard to beat what nasty viruses nature comes up with in a world where ebola is a thing.  My point is, dying to a bomb or a bullet or a fire or a collapsing building is not some merciful or clean death.  Being killed by mustard gas or sarin or some other chemical is unimaginably horrible, but so is bleeding to death after having your legs blown off, or having your skin charred black by incendiary bombs and waiting for the shock to take you, or having only part of your head blasted away by a gunshot, or having your entire body crushed by your own home and breathing in short, quick, excruciating gasps until the internal bleeding ends it.  Sorry for the graphic imagery, but I’m sure my meaning is clear.

Some people have said the difference rests in that chemical weapons can kill while leaving buildings and structures intact.  With all due respect, bulls**t.  If that were even true then it might be a positive for the use of chemical weapons, but it’s not.  Most if not all chemical and biological agents contaminate the killzone, some for a short time, some for far longer than anyone who deploys them could ever hope to outlive.  It’s hard to believe that a force using chemical weapons would not ALSO be using some form of conventional warfare as well, to soften targets and expose more of the enemy to the chemical attack, unless of course such weapons were used by terrorists.  In that case, what’s preferable, a sarin gas attack on a subway, or a conventional C4 explosive that collapses the subway tunnel entirely?  Once again, to be crystal clear, I’m not saying that chemical weapons are wonderful and fine and humane, I’m saying that bombs and shrapnel are not any better.  If you can give me a good reason to think otherwise then I’m more than willing to discuss it, but thinkers and commenters whom I respect have so far been unable to convince me.

Putting that topic aside for the moment, the fact is that most people DO see chemical weapons as horribly worse than other types of war instruments.  In light of that the “why” is much less important.  As I discussed months ago when President Trump made the last airstrike against Syria, it was pretty clear from the circumstances that either the rebels bombed their own people in order to provoke a response from the rest of the world (the USA in particular), or Bashar Assad was just that kind of madman that he’d do something this crazy with no good reason.  That’s pretty much the situation we’re in now.  And once again, the situation is that Syria is not a threat to us, the United States has no interest there to speak of, and that’s exactly why we’re probably going to pummel them over this.  President Trump is a populist and it’s not just Ivanka weeping in her Cristal over chemical attacks in Syria, it’s a huge number of the easily-led normals not just in the USA but worldwide.  We’re still getting through being the laughingstock that Whatshisname made us on the world stage, though already we’re seeing things like China coming to the table on trade and North Korea at least claiming to be willing to discuss nuclear de-escalation due to having adults back in charge.  ISIS has been falling apart and the world has been getting safer.  Now’s not the time to back down.  It may be unjustified, it may be unfair, but let’s be real, Syria’s a s**thole of the left’s making, and the situation there is not going to get a whole lot worse.  Stop pretending like we’re gonna break something.  We’re not.  This is what the state of nature looks like, folks, and we’re the biggest guy with the biggest stick out there.  Using it to pound Bashar Assad is going to get cheers from the right people, is going to make the right people sit up and take notice, and is only going to anger the folks who have plenty of other reasons to back up President Trump.

Of course there is another elephant in the room, or more accurately, a bear.  To President Trump and his populist mindset, that’s just icing on the cake.  Again, let’s be real: Vladimir Putin is not going to start a world war with the United States over Syria.  He’s going to talk tough, he’s going to bluster and rattle his saber, but when the time comes to call or fold, he’ll fold.  Syria’s just not worth it.  Putin isn’t stupid, he knows he can’t win a stand-up fight with the United States and he’s not a crazy jihadist who figures he’ll go down fighting and get his 72 virgins.  Russia’s got to talk tough and look strong and then work something out whereby they stand aside.  That’s the only way Putin wins and hangs on to his influence in the region.  He knows damned well the United States is not presently looking to encroach on his satellites in the Middle East and he also knows that President Trump has to take a tough stance here, and while Russia has plenty to lose as the United States retakes its position in the international community, Russia also has a lot to gain.  ISIS isn’t exactly pals with Vlad either and Vlad would much rather American lives and resources went towards dealing with them than Russian.

So to recap and summarize, chances are good President Trump’s gonna kick Bashar Assad in the teeth again, Putin will bluster and threaten and ultimately find a way to back down gracefully and save face, and the normals around the world will cheer because they think chemical weapons are super ultra bad awful.  Oh, and the whole “Russian collusion” thing still won’t go away.  What, you weren’t expecting a reasonable response based on logic and facts out of La Resistance, were you?

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