Commentary Magazine


Topic: no-fly zone

Do Americans Really Oppose Syria Intervention?

Ed Morrissey at HotAir flags an interesting Washington Post/ABC poll finds that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to a U.S. intervention in Syria–unless Syria loses control of its chemical weapons. Or attacks neighboring U.S. allies. Or Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons against his people. Or if the intervention is a no-fly zone that doesn’t involve ground troops. In those cases, the vast majority of the public supports it:

In general, 73 percent say the U.S. military should not get involved in the conflict. But almost exactly as many say they’d support U.S. military involvement if Syria were to lose control of its chemical weapons, as do 63 percent if the Assad regime used these banned weapons against its own people – an action that Barack Obama has warned would “cross a red line.”

Similarly, if Syrian forces were to attack nearby U.S. allies, 69 percent say they’d support U.S. military involvement. And regardless of any such specific provocation, 62 percent say they’d favor creation of a no-fly zone, provided no ground troops were used. (That may reflect the success of the no-fly zone over Libya, general preference for air vs. ground combat, or some combination of both.)

Even among those who initially oppose U.S. military intervention, more than half change their position given the specific circumstances proposed, including 69 percent who, despite initial hesitancy, support U.S. involvement if Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile became insecure. 

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Ed Morrissey at HotAir flags an interesting Washington Post/ABC poll finds that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to a U.S. intervention in Syria–unless Syria loses control of its chemical weapons. Or attacks neighboring U.S. allies. Or Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons against his people. Or if the intervention is a no-fly zone that doesn’t involve ground troops. In those cases, the vast majority of the public supports it:

In general, 73 percent say the U.S. military should not get involved in the conflict. But almost exactly as many say they’d support U.S. military involvement if Syria were to lose control of its chemical weapons, as do 63 percent if the Assad regime used these banned weapons against its own people – an action that Barack Obama has warned would “cross a red line.”

Similarly, if Syrian forces were to attack nearby U.S. allies, 69 percent say they’d support U.S. military involvement. And regardless of any such specific provocation, 62 percent say they’d favor creation of a no-fly zone, provided no ground troops were used. (That may reflect the success of the no-fly zone over Libya, general preference for air vs. ground combat, or some combination of both.)

Even among those who initially oppose U.S. military intervention, more than half change their position given the specific circumstances proposed, including 69 percent who, despite initial hesitancy, support U.S. involvement if Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile became insecure. 

Those scenarios aren’t that far off. But this finding is interesting for another reason. There’s a lot of talk about how the public is war weary, but Americans have not shown an interest in turning to isolationism. As Seth pointed out recently, a growing percentage of Americans say the U.S. should use military force if need be to prevent a nuclear Iran. The public largely believes that the U.S. has a global responsibility to intervene under certain circumstances, even without a direct, imminent threat to our country. Defending our allies and stopping dictators from massacring their own people with chemical weapons is reason enough for most Americans.

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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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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.”

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“ ‘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.

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No-Fly Zone Needed With Syria

The situation in Syria seems to get worse by the day. Now the Assad regime is threatening to use chemical weapons against any foreign force intervening in Syria and is actually using fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships to bomb Syria’s second-largest city Aleppo. Bashar al-Assad is clearly growing desperate–his ground forces are not enough to suppress the uprising which has now spread to Damascus and Aleppo, and so he is having to resort to his air force to help.

This creates a fresh vulnerability. Early on in the conflict calls for a no-fly zone were rejected because this would have done little to impair Assad’s operations. Now, with the regime increasingly calling out the air force, a no-fly zone could make a difference tactically. It would also make a huge difference symbolically by showing that the world will not put up with the regime’s murderous misconduct and is prepared to act to stop it. That might well encourage more defections from the ranks of the Syrian armed forces.

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The situation in Syria seems to get worse by the day. Now the Assad regime is threatening to use chemical weapons against any foreign force intervening in Syria and is actually using fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships to bomb Syria’s second-largest city Aleppo. Bashar al-Assad is clearly growing desperate–his ground forces are not enough to suppress the uprising which has now spread to Damascus and Aleppo, and so he is having to resort to his air force to help.

This creates a fresh vulnerability. Early on in the conflict calls for a no-fly zone were rejected because this would have done little to impair Assad’s operations. Now, with the regime increasingly calling out the air force, a no-fly zone could make a difference tactically. It would also make a huge difference symbolically by showing that the world will not put up with the regime’s murderous misconduct and is prepared to act to stop it. That might well encourage more defections from the ranks of the Syrian armed forces.

And it could be done at scant risk to U.S. or other outside forces. Assad is bluffing when threatening to use chemical weapons–how will they stop an air campaign to destroy his air defenses and ground his aircraft? This would be a relatively low-cost way for the U.S. to call Assad’s bluff and help shorten his hold on power.

But to act, President Obama will have to break free of his obsession with obtaining UN Security Council approval, something that Russia and China will continue to block. Assad’s chemical weapons threats should make it easier to assemble a coalition of the willing, and one that should be able to obtain NATO and possibly even Arab League support for stronger action.

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