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.

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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 CorkerBob CorkerState spokesman: Why nominate people for jobs that may be eliminated? The Hill's 12:30 Report Senate Foreign Relations chair: Erdogan referendum win 'not something to applaud' MORE (Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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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 SessionsJeff SessionsHouse panel refers Clinton server company for prosecution Sessions to keep up fight on sanctuary cities despite legal setback Suspended Alabama judge running for Senate MORE (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 BoxerBarbara BoxerAnother day, another dollar for retirement advice rip-offs Carly Fiorina 'certainly looking at' Virginia Senate run Top Obama adviser signs with Hollywood talent agency: report MORE (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 ChamblissSaxby ChamblissGOP hopefuls crowd Georgia special race Democrats go for broke in race for Tom Price's seat Spicer: Trump will 'help the team' if needed in Georgia special election MORE (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 AyotteKelly AyotteBottom Line How Gorsuch's confirmation shapes the next Supreme Court battle THE MEMO: Trump set to notch needed win with Gorsuch MORE (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 CruzTed CruzNet neutrality fight descends into trench warfare Secret Service: No guns at Trump NRA speech Cruz: Breaking up 9th Circuit Court ‘a possibility’ MORE (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 MenendezRobert MenendezTaiwan deserves to participate in United Nations The way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump Corruption trial could roil NJ Senate race MORE (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 CardinBen CardinDemocrats exploring lawsuit against Trump Overnight Finance: Dems explore lawsuit against Trump | Full-court press for Trump tax plan | Clock ticks down to spending deadline Sanders on skipping WH Korea briefing: 'I did not want to be part of a photo op' MORE (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.”