As if respect for the United States by the rest of the world hadn't already dropped to an all time low, now it appears that we can legitimately be accused of using chemical weapons:
Pentagon officials acknowledged Tuesday that U.S. troops used white phosphorous as a weapon against insurgent strongholds during the battle of Fallujah last November. But they denied an Italian television news report that the spontaneously flammable material was used against civilians.on BBC radio on Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Venable said that the US State Department's recent assertion that white phosphorus had not been used in Falluja was based on "poor information" .
He also said that "white phosphorus is a conventional munition. It is not a chemical weapon. It is not outlawed or illegal." He said the US army used the incendiary munitions "primarily as obscurants, for smokescreens or target marking in some cases." "However it is an incendiary weapon and may be used against enemy combatants," he added .According to Ansa, an international treaty restricts the use of white phosphorus devices, banning its use against civilian targets -- but the US is not a signatory of this treaty.
I see three patterns here that are troubling -- first there is the use of the "chemical weapon" which we should have been smart enough to avoid. Like the use of terror, this is an indication of a willingness to throw out the conventional rules of behavior which have guided our country up to the current administration, all justified by the "war on terror." As the world's only superpower, and one that has prided itself on being a voice for freedom and democracy, we cannot afford to stop doing what is right, even if it is inconvenient. We should feel a responsibility for setting a good example for the rest of the world.
But the two other patterns are equally disturbing -- as with so many issues that have confronted the Bush administration, there is an attempt at denial based on "bad information" or worse, technical differences in definition. No one in the rest of the world is going to care whether White Phosphorus is officially classified by treaty as a chemical weapon. They can all see the photographs and see the effect of WP and come to their own conclusion. So denying that we have used chemical weapons is a ridiculous statement to make in the face of the evidence.
Which brings us to the last pattern -- why are we (the US) so terrible at crises PR? From the US Government's own website:
In a crisis, the best course of action is to be forthcoming and honest and to do what it takes to facilitate stories. The media are going to write and air stories with or without your help. It's in your best interest to participate in a story — even a negative one — in order to have your position correctly represented. The alternative is for the media to write that a government official "would not respond to our inquiries," which only fuels suspicions and rumors.