Former House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) appeared on Fox News arguing for a military response to the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians. While pushing the same limited strikes plan that the Obama administration wants, Ros-Leithein attacked the president for not moving more forcefully against Damascus. In doing so, she told Fox that Reagan never would have stood for the sort of attack that killed an estimated 1,400 civilians:
ROS-LEHTINEN: It is against the norms of international standards and to let something like this go unanswered, I think will weaken our resolve. I — I know that President Reagan would have never let this happen. He would stand up to this. And President Obama — the only reason he is consulting with Congress, he wants to blame somebody for his lack of resolve. We have to think like President Reagan would do and he would say chemical use is unacceptable.
What Ros-Lehtinen seems oddly unaware of, however, is that Ronald Reagan did exactly the opposite. For the majority of the 1980s, Iraq under Sadaam Hussein was locked in combat with the Islamic Republic of Iran in a war that killed more than 1,000,000 people on both sides. The United States explicitly backed the secular Hussein over the Ayatollah Khomeini’s government in Tehran, still smarting from the embassy hostage crisis that had only ended when Reagan took office. That backing not only included the shipment of tons of weapons to support Baghdad, but also looking the other way when Iraq unleashed its chemical weapons stockpiles — including sarin and mustard gas — against Iranian civilians and soldiers alike.
Recently declassified documents from that time indicate that not only did the U.S. government know that Hussein possessed these weapons, but “conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin.” President Reagan also remained silent during the Al-Anfal campaign, in which Hussein used poison gas against the Kurdish population in Northern Iraq to put down a revolt against his rule. In what has later been called a genocide, more than 100,000 men, women, and children were killed, nearly 100 times more than the attack that took place outside of Damascus last month.