[Editor’s Note: As you’re well aware, the situation in Syria is one we have been watching very closely. From the first Russian air strikes, to the shoot-down of a Russian fighter, to the deployment of the S-400 SAM system, FighterSweep and its staff of knowledgeable, credible authors have been on top of things, so to speak. This piece is not by us, but gives a nice glimpse at the challenges associated with the concept of implementing and enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria.]
A rare bipartisan consensus is emerging from the presidential campaign trail on the most consequential issue likely to confront the next commander-in-chief: what to do about the Syrian conflict that has given rise to ISIS. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton and a majority of the Republican contenders have embraced a U.S.-enforced “no-fly” zone and sanctuary inside Syria as a way to break the current stalemate in a civil war has spread instability and terrorism throughout the region and the world.
“We should work with the coalition and the neighbors to impose no-fly zones that will stop [Syrian strongman] Assad from slaughtering civilians and the opposition from the air,” Hillary Clinton told the Council on Foreign Relations in November. “Opposition forces on the ground with material support from the coalition could then help create safe areas where Syrians could remain in the country rather than fleeing toward Europe.”
In the last Republican presidential debate on December 15, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie similarly argued for U.S. led no-fly zones in Syria, a position also embraced by Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson. During the debate, Christie even touted his willingness to shoot down Russian warplanes operating inside Syria if they dared venture into such a no-fly zone. “Not only would I be prepared to do it, I would do it,” Christie told moderator Wolf Blitzer. “A no-fly zone means a no-fly zone.”
Though its proponents on the campaign trail may be presenting a no-fly zone in simple terms, the pros and cons of such a sanctuary have been hotly debated among U.S. military and national security experts. Proponents say the U.S. military has long experience in such operations, enforcing no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq throughout much of the 1990s. They see it as a means to stem the tide of Syrian refugees swamping Europe, to mitigate Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad’s worst atrocities such as barrel bombing civilian populations and to provide a base of operations for proxy forces inside Syria that the U.S. is already training and equipping to fight ISIS.
Current U.S. military officials, however, have resisted the idea. They say a no-fly zone is an act of war against a sovereign nation that still has a seat at the United Nations. Establishing a no-fly zone—two, actually, as advocates have proposed one in Syria’s south and one in its north—would dramatically escalate American involvement in Syria’s civil war, require a ground force willing to defend the sanctuary, and do little to directly challenge ISIS’ control of territory outside the zone. If the primary goals are stopping Assad’s barrel bombing of civilian populations, or degrading ISIS, there are less burdensome ways to accomplish them.
The original article can be viewed here.