The United States helped protect the last Middle Eastern tyrant thought to use chemical weapons.
That dictator was Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. Because he was fighting Iran in the 1980s, the Reagan administration fed him secret intelligence. And because his country bought U.S. crops, farm-state politicians fought off sanctions.
Now, amid allegations of chemical weapons use by Syria, the Obama administration is preparing a case for military action. Moral assertions will be paramount, as in Secretary of State John Kerry’s declaration Monday that “our sense of basic humanity is offended.”
History, though, offers a harsher perspective. From Iraq and Syria, to Rwanda and Armenia, morality as a motive in U.S. foreign policy is more contingent than absolute.