Skip to main content

Is diplomacy the harder solution in Syria?

By James A. "Spider" Marks, CNN Military Analyst
September 13, 2013 -- Updated 1322 GMT (2122 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Military analyst says people should not underestimate the demands of a diplomatic solution
  • He says inspecting, destroying Syria's chemical weapons would require "boots on the ground"
  • Inserting troops and inspectors into the middle of a raging civil war is a daunting task, he says

Editor's note: James A. "Spider" Marks spent 30 years in the U.S. Army, ending his service as commanding general of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School and as the senior intelligence officer for the invasion of Iraq. He is a co-founder and principal of Willowdale Services, a Virginia-based private advisory firm serving companies including defense firms.

(CNN) -- Here's the reality of the situation: A diplomatic solution to Syria's use of chemical weapons will include "boots on the ground." The threat of a military solution will not.

It should come as no surprise that anything other than doing nothing in Syria will be costly and threatens the deployment of soldiers to Syria to ensure compliance. But why does diplomacy seem so enticing?

Let's assume Bashar al-Assad agrees to surrender his chemical stockpiles to an international body for control or destruction. What next?

Minimally, there has to be a cease-fire in Syria's civil war. There can be no inspection regime until all parties involved in the fighting in Syria agree to stop fighting and to an intrusive cease-fire verification regime.

James A. \
James A. "Spider" Marks

Having led the initial weapons of mass destruction hunt in Iraq in 2003, I can tell you that there is no possibility that inspectors should volunteer to race into harm's way to inspect a possible chemical site without a phalanx of soldiers protecting them.

Is a cease-fire likely? No side is incentivized to stop fighting. The minority Alawites are running Syria as well as for their lives.

Iran has stoked this war by proxy; it has no interest in a cessation of hostilities. Hezbollah is guided and funded by Iran so it won't stop the killing. Russia has supported al-Assad and his family for decades. It is unlikely that Russia will cut off its aid, especially in light of President Vladimir Putin's lecture to America in the form of an op-ed in Thursday's New York Times.

A tumultuous week of Syria diplomacy
In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war: In this photo provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center, Syrian men help survivors out of a building in Aleppo after it was bombed, allegedly by a Syrian regime warplane on Saturday, February 8. The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. Click through to see the most compelling images taken during the conflict, which is now a civil war:
Syrian civil war in photos
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Syrian civil war in photos Syrian civil war in photos

As a starting point, Syria has to declare what chemical weapons it has and where they're located before any inspectors secured by soldiers step onto Syrian soil.

Al-Assad will surrender that data on his chemical stockpiles, but it may well be wrong, full of intentional inaccuracies. Every vault behind every door within every site must be verified.

The amount of time to accomplish that task will be years. Let's not forget, a cease-fire must remain in place and be resilient enough to withstand the inevitable score-settling of this bloody civil war. The killing will continue. Only the bravest of the brave inspectors will agree to this mission.

Will the chemical weapons, or the other possible weapons of mass destruction that inspectors discover, be destroyed in place, or will they be taken out of country for destruction or safeguarding?

The answer seems quite simple -- destroy them in place. The logistics just to arrive at the point of finding the munitions are staggering. To upload arguably unstable munitions from multiple disparate locations throughout Syria and transport them along poorly maintained roads to locations within Syria to be secured or destroyed in a nonpermissive environment when hostilities are likely to flare up any time is a monumental task. Let's hope decisions about "rendering safe" are made by weapons experts, not suits.

Finally, every party involved in Syria's civil war wants al-Assad's chemical stockpile. Chemical weapons are strategic leverage. Hezbollah and al Qaeda insurgents are already deciding how to threaten their regional enemies and each other with the use of chemicals.

Diplomacy is hard. Be careful what you ask for.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1252 GMT (2052 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT