Commentary Magazine


Doubting the No-Fly Zone Doubters

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Joint Staff have analyzed for the White House some options for more direct military intervention in Syria, including using Patriot batteries based in Turkey and firing other offshore missiles at Syrian aircraft on the ground, to enforce at least a limited no-fly zone. Predictably, there is little desire for intervention at either the White House or Pentagon and so these options have been dismissed as unfeasible–as have, apparently, more robust options for sending American and allied aircraft to simply enforce a no-fly zone as previously happened in Libya, Iraq, and the Balkans.

A useful counterpoint to this pessimism may be found in this Washington Post op-ed by Scott Cooper, a veteran Marine aviator who actually enforced no-fly zones in Iraq and the Balkans. He writes:

A no-fly zone is feasible. Yes, Syria possesses capable air defenses, but they are no match for U.S. air power. I flew missions over Sarajevo; over Pristina, Kosovo; over Nasiriyah and Mosul, Iraq. Not once during any of those air missions did I feel as threatened as I did than when I patrolled the highways of Iraq in a Humvee. We must not lose confidence out of fear by overestimating our opponent’s capabilities.

A no-fly zone will not immediately end the conflict, but neutralizing the Syrian air force will erase one of the regime’s decisive advantages and lead to a major turning point in the conflict. Doing so is not only morally right but also in our strategic interest.

Cooper’s arguments are worth pondering in full–especially as you read the latest leaks about how unworkable a no-fly zone actually is. Such arguments are only a thin camouflage for the administration’s lack of will to do anything about the humanitarian and strategic disaster unfolding in Syria.