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Should the U.S. send ground troops after Syria's chemical weapons?
With Syria in chaos, Sen. Lindsey Graham says the Obama administration should do whatever it takes to secure the Assad regime's WMD stockpile
"My biggest fear beyond an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is the chemical weapons in Syria falling in the hands of extremists." — Sen. Lindsey Graham
"My biggest fear beyond an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is the chemical weapons in Syria falling in the hands of extremists." — Sen. Lindsey Graham T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images
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ollowing unconfirmed reports of a chemical weapon attack in Syria, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is calling for the U.S. to send in ground troops to secure the regime's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. The Syrian regime and rebels fighting to overthrow it are accusing each other of using chemical weapons in a rocket attack that killed at least 25 people this week in the war-torn Aleppo province. President Obama has called the use of chemical weapons a "red line" that could trigger a foreign intervention, but his administration says there's no evidence the strike really did involve WMD, even though a Reuters photographer said victims sent to hospitals reported people "suffocating in the streets" near the site of the blast.

Graham said the U.S. should try to enlist the help of allies, but be prepared to secure Syria's WMD sites alone, if it has to. The alternative, he said, is risking that dangerous sarin nerve agent, mustard gas, and other poisons will fall into the hand of Islamist extremist groups fighting alongside moderate rebels trying to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "You've got to get on the ground," the South Carolina Republican said. "There is no substitute for securing these weapons." Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he'd endorse a no-fly zone to help rebels topple Assad, but that foreign troops should only be sent if if that's the only way to keep the regime's chemical weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists.  

Not surprisingly, not everyone is sold on the idea of getting American soldiers involved in another war.

Leave it to Graham and his fellow "super-hawk," Sen. John McCain, "to choose the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to call for deeper intervention into a Baathist-run country over dubious claims involving WMD," says Allahpundit at Hot Air. That kind of talk is going to do nothing but rally support for Sen. Rand Paul's isolationism.

The whole argument for intervening in Syria is that Assad's chemical weapons might fall into the wrong hands eventually and be used against innocents. Well, in the near term the hands they're most likely to fall into are … the rebels', and there are enough jihadis among them to leave it an open question about who's really behind [Tuesday's] massacre. Yet here are McCain and Graham insisting that Assad's crossed the "red line" and therefore it's time to start arming the same opposition that stands accused of the attack. There are monsters on both sides in Syria, which is why even many hawks are reluctant to intervene. [Hot Air]

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) argues that if the U.S. confirms that Assad's forces used WMD, the Obama administration is morally obligated to launch a "very limited military strike" to prevent it from using chemical weapons again. The thing is, says Joshua Hersh at The Huffington Post, if the U.S. does get involved, there's no hope of getting the job done with air power alone.

Experts said that bombing suspected chemical weapons sites — many believed to be heavily fortified underground bunkers — would be unlikely to disable the program, and may risk dispersing chemicals through the air.

A more realistic scenario for securing the weapons would require a large-scale air campaign and tens of thousands of ground troops, according to the Pentagon. A November Pentagon study concluded that properly securing Syria's chemical weapons depots would require at least 75,000 troops. [Huffington Post]

The irony is that there's only one surefire way to prevent the nightmare scenario of letting "weapons falling into the hands of jihadists and other bad guys," says Richard Cohen at The Washington Post. "Throw America's support behind Bashar al-Assad , the vile dictator the White House wants gone." Assad has kept a lid on his nation's WMD, but if he loses we might wind up with "the Middle East version of Black Friday, with door-busting sales on all the latest weapons, batteries included." Realistically, though, we're never going to throw our support behind Assad, and it looks like his days are numbered. "Blowback is now a given. There is no sure way to avoid it, only to contain it." Now it's a matter of "swiftly arming the moderates and pressing for as quick an end to the war as possible," then doing whatever is necessary to keep terrorists from getting their hands on Assad's arsenal.

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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