It's been a week where an inadvertent remark by Secretary of State John Kerry has done more for Middle East peace than his predecessor's entire tenure and Vladimir Putin is as busy as President Obama in making the case to the American people for how stability in the Syria is to be reached.
Russia and the US have apparently negotiated an agreement about dismantling the chemical weapons in Syria. With its agreement, Syria will now become a signatory of UN prohibitions against using weapons that it never admitted that it had, and surrender them without actually admitting that it used them on its own citizens. In return, President Obama will quietly withdraw a request for permission that he was never going to get from Congress for a response to their use; which no one wanted to look too closely at, lest they discover that some of them had come across the border from Iraq during one of the previous Administration's foreign policy escapades and have to admit that they were there in the first place.
Wait a minute! These are CHEMICAL WEAPONS whose components can only be destroyed properly by those with expert knowledge of such weaponry under the most exacting of conditions in specialized facilities through the use of tremendous heat. Without delving too deeply into how the United States gained the singular expertise required for the destruction of such materials and the demolition of the sites that create them, I would suggest that anyone who believes that those with such proficiency are not in uniform may already be committing significant abuse where modern chemistry is concerned.
As for their safe disposal ... The last time I looked, the entire nation of Syria was a war zone occupied by multiple factions with no love for each other, let alone President Assad and his government. (As for the US and its on again, off again support of regime change ... not so much.) Now regardless of whether the agreeing parties yesterday also reached peace amongst the disparate factions involved with this conflict (they haven't) or is planning on imposing peace on the region by some means (no one's said so), someone's going to have to provide security, transport, and disposal of these materials while the fighting is still going on. (Lest heaven forbid, they should fall into the wrong hands.)
Regardless of what anyone in the Administration, Congress, or the Press is peddling these days; if this task is to be accomplished, a great number of US personnel are going to have to place themselves in harms way as part of this process. Construction engineers are going to have to build a disposal facility in that part of the world. (We probably have or had one in neighboring Iraq, but that nation's gone to hell under recent foreign policy and those facilities may no longer be operable.) Security and transport will need to be provided from wherever the stockpiles have been most recently relocated (to protect them from our Tomahawk cruise missiles) to wherever the disposal and remission sites end up. Ground forces will necessarily make up some part of that security if for no other reason than to protect convoys from IED's (improvised explosive devices) and suicide bombers; along with their requisite supply and logistics services. Air cover will likewise need to be provided as part of that security, which because of the location means carrier deployment, use of Saudi air bases, or both. Deployment of carriers will mean the further staging of a fleet of ships for support, logistics, and fleet protection.
Based on current intelligence estimates of the size of stockpiles in Syria and even assuming that the warring parties currently occupying the space allow us to proceed, it's likely that undertaking such an operation will require 'boots on the ground' for the rest of the decade at a minimum. Up until now, the promise against such a condition is the only thing achieving bi-partisan support. Strange that in the rush to celebrate this agreement, no one is talking about these unintended consequences of their success.
It was Lee Hazlewood that wrote "These Boots Are Made For Walking"; that Nancy Sinatra (Frank's daughter) made famous in back in 1966. It won't be go-go boots on the beach that we'll be talking about in 2013 and beyond however, but combat boots once again deployed to march the sand in Middle Eastern deployment.
An earlier version of this was picked up and reprinted on the website of the