Despite calling the available options to secure Syria's chemical weapons "pretty awful," House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., said it was possible to transfer the country's massive stockpiles to international control—especially with Arab League troops on the ground.
"I do think you can get a good percentage of them, because the Assad regime is also worried these things could fall in the wrong hands and could be used against the regime," Rogers told the Intelligence and National Security Alliance summit on Thursday.
President Obama this week asked a wary Congress to postpone a vote authorizing force to punish Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons against his people to pursue diplomatic options instead. These options include a resolution at the United Nations Security Council requiring Assad to place his chemical arsenal under international control to be destroyed. Syria, one of the few countries that never signed the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention, is believed to have one of the largest stockpiles of these weapons in the world—and securing and destroying them would be an arduous task even without a bloody civil war still raging.
To wade into Syria, where more than 100,000 people have died in the conflict, chemical-weapons inspectors would surely need protection. Rogers insisted there's no need for U.S. boots on the ground in Syria. Instead, the Arab League is "willing to provide the support we need, including troops to go in and help secure those weapons systems, because they know how dangerous it is if it proliferates around the Levant," he said.
"So I kind of hope we shake ourselves out of this malaise, and the administration regroups about how we could impact that with a plan that's meaningful and embraces our Arab League partners eager to do it," Rogers said. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and Turkey are the partners "eager" to take on the task, Rogers said.
By contrast, Rogers says no Republican or Democrat on his committee, or even on the Armed Services Committees, is interested in trying to put thousands of U.S. troops on the ground. "That's nuts. It would be a horrible decision."
Even with a concerted mission to protect and destroy the chemical weapons, there are dangerous consequences. "We do think there's going to be some further dispersal of the chemical weapons," Rogers said. This is especially worrying because—as ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., noted—other groups might like to get their hands on these weapons. "There's al-Qaida on one side, Hezbollah on the other."
Syria, Ruppersberger says, cannot be trusted to fully cooperate. "They have to be totally held accountable. I'm sure they're moving [their stocks] right now knowing that this is coming at this point," Ruppersberger told National Journal. "The only reason they're agreeing to anything at this point is because of the threat of power." Ruppersberger agrees Washington cannot take on this mission alone. "The United States can't be the sheriff of the whole world; it's got to be a coalition."
Sarin, the nerve agent suspected of killing hundreds of people last month and sparking Washington's call for military action, can be destroyed in a short period of time. "In the old days, it was a much more complicated process," Rogers says. By contrast, mustard gas and other weapons "are going to take a lot longer; you've got to do it with incinerators."
This article appears in the September 13, 2013, edition of NJ Daily.