Commentary Magazine


Topic: Aleppo

A No-Fly Zone Could End Syria Stalemate

Last week, Michael Doran of the Brookings Institution and I had an op-ed in the New York Times arguing for a greater level of American involvement in Syria. Among the steps we advocated was putting an initial focus on helping the rebels to take Aleppo, the country’s second-largest city and commercial hub.

Today you can read in the Weekly Standard a first-hand report on how the battle of Aleppo is progressing by Jonathan Spyer, a Jerusalem Post columnist. Spyer, who recently visited the area, confirms the extent to which Assad has lost control of the land between Aleppo and the Turkish border:


I entered Aleppo governorate in broad daylight, crossing through an olive grove on the Turkish border. Once over, I was picked up by a driver affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, and we continued on our peaceful way, taking the highway to the warzone of Aleppo city. The Assad regime no longer exists as a functioning presence in the surrounding countryside. The FSA, in its various local manifestations and with its various political allies, has the final word.

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Last week, Michael Doran of the Brookings Institution and I had an op-ed in the New York Times arguing for a greater level of American involvement in Syria. Among the steps we advocated was putting an initial focus on helping the rebels to take Aleppo, the country’s second-largest city and commercial hub.

Today you can read in the Weekly Standard a first-hand report on how the battle of Aleppo is progressing by Jonathan Spyer, a Jerusalem Post columnist. Spyer, who recently visited the area, confirms the extent to which Assad has lost control of the land between Aleppo and the Turkish border:


I entered Aleppo governorate in broad daylight, crossing through an olive grove on the Turkish border. Once over, I was picked up by a driver affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, and we continued on our peaceful way, taking the highway to the warzone of Aleppo city. The Assad regime no longer exists as a functioning presence in the surrounding countryside. The FSA, in its various local manifestations and with its various political allies, has the final word.

However, Assad retains an ace card—his air force. Spyer goes on to note:

The relative tranquility in the villages between the border and Aleppo city is deceptive, however. Assad’s power is not manifested in the few remaining points on the ground he controls but in his near-complete mastery of the air. This enables the dictator to maintain a reign of terror even over areas physically held by his opponents, as we would discover.

That is why Doran and I argued for the U.S. and its allies to impose a no-fly zone, thus taking away from Assad the major advantage he continues to hold—and without running the risk of providing to the rebels sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles that could fall into the wrong hands. As Spyer notes, the battle of Aleppo is currently a stalemate but the U.S. could break that stalemate easily—and help to bring about Assad’s downfall.

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Kurdistan, First Impressions

This whole week I’m in Kurdistan, or Iraqi Kurdistan, or northern Iraq, or whatever you want to call this nation-region within a country. There is not one speck of my being that fails to thrill to the prospect of a self-determined, democratic, pro-West, thriving Kurdistan. My preliminary impressions — and that’s all they are so far — have worked, however, to temper the romance ever so slightly.

For starters, there was the stark reminder of how difficult it can be to thrive, or even function, in this region. Around the time our plane was supposed to land in Erbil, the pilot informed all the passengers that “due to a political situation between Iraq and Turkey,” the airport at Erbil was closed for two hours. He assured us that we had enough fuel to hover or to land in Aleppo if need be. After the full two hours, we landed in Erbil, where everyone was tight-lipped about the details of the “political situation.”

Two flags stood side by side in the airport waiting area: the Kurdistan flag with its bursting sun and the Iraqi flag with “Allahu Akbar” in Arabic script. This is as one would expect. But the room’s other adornments revealed a certain incongruity. Two walls bore framed heroic portraits of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdistan regional government president, and Jalal Talibani, the president of Iraq and a revered Kurdish political figure. Images of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were conspicuously absent. Take that for what it’s worth, but the uneasy question of Kurdistan’s allegiance and independence is certainly a fundamental one.

When I saw yet another framed heroic portrait of KDP founder, Mustafa Barzani, in my hotel lobby, I was reminded, unfortunately, of earlier travels elsewhere. The ubiquity of leaders’ benevolent visages is a sure indicator of a personality cult. Hasn’t the region seen enough of those?

On the way out of the airport, there were definite signs of a booming nation: billboards advertising Nissan Maximas, Land Rovers, and a “New Iraq,” as well as construction sites, were everywhere.

Let’s hope for more billboards and fewer flattering portraits.

This whole week I’m in Kurdistan, or Iraqi Kurdistan, or northern Iraq, or whatever you want to call this nation-region within a country. There is not one speck of my being that fails to thrill to the prospect of a self-determined, democratic, pro-West, thriving Kurdistan. My preliminary impressions — and that’s all they are so far — have worked, however, to temper the romance ever so slightly.

For starters, there was the stark reminder of how difficult it can be to thrive, or even function, in this region. Around the time our plane was supposed to land in Erbil, the pilot informed all the passengers that “due to a political situation between Iraq and Turkey,” the airport at Erbil was closed for two hours. He assured us that we had enough fuel to hover or to land in Aleppo if need be. After the full two hours, we landed in Erbil, where everyone was tight-lipped about the details of the “political situation.”

Two flags stood side by side in the airport waiting area: the Kurdistan flag with its bursting sun and the Iraqi flag with “Allahu Akbar” in Arabic script. This is as one would expect. But the room’s other adornments revealed a certain incongruity. Two walls bore framed heroic portraits of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdistan regional government president, and Jalal Talibani, the president of Iraq and a revered Kurdish political figure. Images of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were conspicuously absent. Take that for what it’s worth, but the uneasy question of Kurdistan’s allegiance and independence is certainly a fundamental one.

When I saw yet another framed heroic portrait of KDP founder, Mustafa Barzani, in my hotel lobby, I was reminded, unfortunately, of earlier travels elsewhere. The ubiquity of leaders’ benevolent visages is a sure indicator of a personality cult. Hasn’t the region seen enough of those?

On the way out of the airport, there were definite signs of a booming nation: billboards advertising Nissan Maximas, Land Rovers, and a “New Iraq,” as well as construction sites, were everywhere.

Let’s hope for more billboards and fewer flattering portraits.

Read Less