Commentary Magazine


What’s Stopping a No-Fly Zone in Syria?

“ ‘Never again’ is a challenge to nations. It’s a bitter truth — too often, the world has failed to prevent the killing of innocents on a massive scale. And we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.” So said President Obama earlier this year at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. One wonders, in light of what is happening in Syria, how he can fail to be haunted by his administration’s unwillingness to do more to end the bloodshed there.

Especially as one reads news items such as this one: “At least 30 people, and possibly more than 100, were killed in Syria on Thursday in the northern Raqqa Province, when government warplanes bombed a gas station crowded with people, according to activist groups.”

It is true it is beyond America’s power—or at least the amount of power that any American wants to employ—to end all the killing in Syria. That would take a massive ground intervention which no one is proposing, and even the dispatch of large numbers of troops could simply lead to more fighting, as in Iraq. But it is not beyond America’s power to ground the Syrian Air Force before it carries out more such atrocities. Airpower is one instrument of power that can be safely employed in Syria. It would take only a few days for the U.S. Navy and Air Force to take down all of Syria’s air defenses and thus ground the Syrian Air Force before it kills again. Many allies, from France to Turkey, would cheer us on if we did so and cooperate to enforce a no-fly zone.

Yet President Obama refuses to give the order to act. This is a haunting abdication of power that shows the hollowness of talk about a “responsibility to protect” the victims of mass killings.