Syria and WMD: Iraq Redux?

July 30, 2012 Topic: Arms ControlRogue States Region: Syria Blog Brand: The Buzz

Syria and WMD: Iraq Redux?

John Bolton is still looking for Iraq's WMD, only this time he thinks they are in Syria. And like in Iraq, he wants the U.S. military to secure them.

The former UN ambassador’s latest column for Fox News begins simply enough. He worries that sometime soon Syrian president Bashar al-Assad will use chemical weapons if his regime's survival is at risk. In the long term, he says that, "We must not permit terrorists like Al Qaeda or Hezbollah in next-door Lebanon, rogue states or a radical Syrian successor regime to acquire these capabilities."

Bolton concludes that, "Given the extraordinarily uncertain, dangerous environment that will prevail inside Syria immediately after Assad's downfall, any military operation to secure or destroy WMD facilities and assets will be enormously dangerous. Nonetheless, the United States and its allies should be urgently preparing contingency plans to do just that."

Bolton is right to worry about chemical and biological weapons in Syria falling into the wrong hands. Though he does not give specifics on his military plan to secure the WMD, U.S. ground troops would likely be needed to ensure the weapons are safeguarded. And Bolton readily admits that such an operation would be risky.

But it’s worth it, Bolton suggests, because “unconfirmed reports” indicate that Saddam may have transferred weapons to Syria before his downfall.

Rebel forces should hand over WMD stockpiles or risk losing out on U.S. aid, Bolton argues. But withholding aid still wouldn’t recover the weapons. And there is always the possibility of a power vacuum marked by sectarian violence if the Assad regime falls, which would entangle the U.S. military in yet another civil war peacekeeping operation.

We have seen this movie before in Iraq. The United States should be wary of getting involved in regime changes under the guise of finding and securing WMD.