Lawmakers dread Syria inspections

Lawmakers on Wednesday raised concerns that a long, complicated effort to secure Syria’s chemical weapons could draw the U.S. into a nightmarish inspection process while Syria is engaged in a brutal civil war.

While they said avoiding U.S. military action is a positive development, some see in Syria a repeat of the drawn-out series of weapons inspections in the 12 years between the first and second Gulf Wars.

“The complexities of enforcing it are going to be massive,” said Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In Iraq, the U.S. faced a recalcitrant dictator in Saddam Hussein who the Bush administration said obstructed efforts to inspect his suspected weapons supplies. Some see a parallel with Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose government has pledged to turn over its chemical weapons.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) noted that Hussein agreed to United Nations resolutions to destroy his chemical weapons after the first Gulf War. But he repeatedly broke those commitments, which was one factor in the George W. Bush administration’s decision to invade. 

“If we were to participate in the destruction of chemical weapons, we should be on guard that it can lead you into deeper involvement,” Sessions said.

Others argue that comparing Syrian diplomacy to Iraq is inaccurate because the U.S. isn’t contemplating putting boots on the ground and it knows the weapons are there.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who voted against authorizing military force in Iraq but supported Syria action, said she saw no connection between the two conflicts.

“This has not even one scintilla of comparison,” Boxer told The Hill. “In Iraq, there were no weapons. In Syria … there’s proof they’ve been used.” 

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said that Iraq and Syria were unrelated so long as “the president is serious about ‘no boots on the ground.’ ”

No one expects an easy task even if an agreement is reached to secure Syria’s chemical weapons.

The details of a diplomatic resolution are far from finalized, and many are skeptical a United Nations Security Council measure will ever get off the ground.

Even if a resolution is agreed to, the process of getting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and verifying them will be lengthy and complicated.

Lawmakers expected that the process would be carried out through the United Nations, and the U.S. would play a role in a U.N. coalition.

“How can the international community under the umbrella of the U.N. execute this in a way that actually will work?” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said. “It’s a very big concern I have, absolutely.”

Chambliss said the timetable of the operation was still not clear, but it could stretch out to six months or a year.

“Obviously, you’re not doing 30 days,” he said.

What should happen if diplomacy fails remains divisive?

Russia’s surprise proposal has indefinitely delayed a vote in Congress on using military force in Syria.

Backers of military action say that the threat of force helped spur the diplomatic gesture from Russia and Syria, and they contend Congress should keep up the pressure. A group of lawmakers began drafting an alternative resolution after Russia made its proposal Monday.

But opponents of military action say that adding diplomatic language won’t change their minds.

“I do not intend to vote to authorize military force against Syria because I don’t believe it would further the national security interests of the United States,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Tuesday when asked about the alternate resolution.

Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which passed the resolution last week to authorize force, held separate meetings on Wednesday to map out the next steps forward.

Both Corker and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) indicated no vote was forthcoming in the next week at least. Menendez said the situation remained too fluid even to draft a new resolution.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who voted for the use-of-force authorization, said that pursuing diplomacy could help secure undecided votes on military action should the diplomatic effort fail.

“I think it gives us a way of getting a stronger vote, yes,” Cardin said. “Because it demonstrates that what we said in our resolution about diplomacy going first has in fact taken place.”