Skip to main content

Is diplomacy the harder solution in Syria?

By James A. "Spider" Marks, CNN Military Analyst
updated 9:22 AM EDT, Fri September 13, 2013
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
updated 9:27 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 6:09 PM EDT, Sat September 27, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 2:02 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 1:41 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
updated 3:00 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
updated 8:57 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
updated 4:40 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
updated 10:01 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
updated 8:32 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
updated 2:05 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT