US should buy Syria’s chemical weapons

The US should offer to buy Syria's WMD before they fall into the wrong hands.

Free Syrian Army fighter walks through dust in Aleppo 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Free Syrian Army fighter walks through dust in Aleppo 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Unlike former US president George W. Bush’s quixotic and futile quest to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, gone is the decades-long intelligence community surmise that Syria possesses large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.
Chillingly, last month, Syria’s Foreign Ministry publicly made a smoking-gun confession that it not only possessed these WMD, but would use those weapons against outside interveners in its prolonged civil war. The US and Israel replied with gusto to Syria's thinly veiled threat.
In a bold but prudent effort to help stabilize a post-Assad government and to pre-empt the need for either the US or Israel to raid and secure Syria’s WMD stockpiles, the US should offer to buy those WMD now from the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army. As a pre-emptive economic diplomacy carrot, the price should be at least $80 million.
The predominant Syrian opposition forces could use the money to reboot that nation’s economy out of the ashes of civil war with a Marshall-type Plan. Once purchased, the US must destroy Syria’s WMD at one of the US Army Chemical Materials Agency’s disposal sites in the US, under the watchful eyes of UN inspectors.  
Surprisingly, remarkable precedent exists in the US diplomacy playbook for such a cash-for-weapons disarmament deal. In 1997, the Pentagon exercised the power of the purse by pre-emptively buying twenty-one of the then top-of-the-line MiG-29 fighter jets from Moldova, a former Soviet republic, after Moldova tipped the US off that Iran was on the verge of buying the jets.
Quickly moving in, the US Air Force bought the jets for allegedly $80 million. Ominously, fourteen of the planes were nuclear-capable S models – which had never been analyzed by the US intelligence community. Here we had the Pentagon snatch a potential military threat out of the weapons marketplace by simply outbidding a pariah state. President Barack Obama should be just as innovative and savvy with Syria’s WMD. I proposed in a 1997 op-ed article that the Pentagon should offer to buy Saddam Hussein’s purported cache of WMD.
A multi-million dollar purchase of Syria’s WMD is a very small price for US taxpayers to pay to prevent vials of anthrax and perhaps hundreds of tons of sarin, VX, and mustard gas from falling into the suicidal hands of al-Qaida or Hezbollah. Syria has the largest operational chemical weapons stockpile in the world. About one drop of sarin can kill an adult in a few minutes.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has publicly warned that Israel will act immediately if it discovers that the Syrian army is transferring WMD to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese group, or if militants raid the WMD. Hezbollah has 40,000 missiles that can strike Israel.  With Israeli fighter-bombers now flying nearly 24/7 missions at 16,000 feet near the Syrian border, perched to quickly strike at Syria’s WMD egress roads, the entire Middle East appears to be facing an unprecedented WMD emergency.
With highly publicized defections running rampant up and down the ranks of President Bashar al-Assad’s own military and government, defections at one or more chemical and biological weapons storage sites might be inevitable. With Syrian-grown Islamic jihadists growing in strength in some parts of Syria and al-Qaida slowly but surely filling the armament void caused by the US refusing to arm the Syrian opposition forces, these sites are quite vulnerable to sabotage and seizure. Triggering both Israel’s and the US’s red line in the national security sand, air strikes, and commando raids would certainly follow, precipitously pushing the entire Middle East into more chaos and possible war.
President Obama has shown commendable bravado in some military decisions in the past two years. Equally bold, pre-emptive economic diplomacy might just neutralize Syria’s WMD threat, before it’s too late. The US should begin clandestine negotiations now with the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army to buy the genie in Syria’s WMD bottle.  
 The writer is a West Point graduate and a professor in the School of Professional & Continuing Studies at the University of Richmond. He once taught the national security law course in the university’s School of Law.