Time is right for a Syria no-fly zone
May 31st, 2013
09:12 AM ET

Time is right for a Syria no-fly zone

By Danielle Pletka, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Danielle Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are her own.

As control of key cities in Syria seesaws between regime and rebel control, leaks suggest that the Obama administration is considering implementing a no-fly zone over the embattled nation.  Why now?  Good question.

Soon after Syria descended into chaos in 2011, it was clear that the country would become a proxy war zone – an extension of the growing Sunni-Shiite rift widening in the Middle East.  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s allies in Iran and Russia quickly committed to doing everything necessary to aid their friend in Damascus, regardless of the toll on the Syrian people.  Similarly, the rebels’ Gulf Arab allies doubled down on the forces opposed to al-Assad. And for a long time, it seemed the country would boil in self-destructive fashion, a decisive victory elusive to both sides.

In recent months, however, momentum had swung to the rebels.  Key towns fell to the Free Syrian Army and other groups opposed to al-Assad.  It was starting to look like the end was nigh for the Syrian president. In desperation, the regime is widely believed to have resorted to the use of chemical weapons, challenging President Barack Obama, who had suggested the use of such weapons would be a “red line” and a “game changer” for the United States.  In fact, it was neither.

Team al-Assad, appreciating that the U.S. president’s credibility was of less value to him than his isolationist impulse, made a decision to do what was necessary to wrest momentum back from the rebels. In quick succession, Russia announced the transfer of the sophisticated S-300 surface-to-air missile system to al-Assad (and he, in turn, says he has it in hand), and deployed a dozen warships off the Syrian coast; Iran reportedly sent ground troops to fight alongside Syrian forces, and Iranian proxy Hezbollah poured in thousands of men to shore up al-Assad’s lagging forces.  And in the waning days of May, al-Assad is again believed to have used chemical weapons against his own people.

More from GPS: What if al-Assad prevails?

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry took time away from his number one priority – the Middle East peace process – to persuade Moscow of the wisdom of a Syrian peace conference.  That conference, slated to take place in Geneva on June 5, holds out little help for a resolution of the Syrian conflict for several reasons. Al-Assad is unlikely to make any concessions at a moment he feels the tide is turning his way.  Similarly, the rebels (who as of this writing have declined to join the conference until Iranian and Hezbollah forces stand down) have little to gain if they can expect less from diplomacy than from the use of force.

If the peace conference goes nowhere, the ball will once again be back in the Western court.  Al-Assad’s supporters have made their bets.  So have partisans of the Islamist extremists fighting Assad; al Qaeda’s friends in Qatar have demonstrated their commitment to groups like Jabhat al Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliated Syrian rebel group.  Only the Free Syrian Army continues to struggle without decisive public assistance from either Europe or the United States.  But this week, the European arms embargo on Syria expired, and France and Great Britain could soon step in to arm the rebels.  That leaves the United States.

The White House has not ruled out a no-fly zone over Syria, but the president appears more focused on “ending” the war on terror than in re-engaging the United States around the world.  But events may force Obama’s hand.  There is no returning to the status quo ante, and it is already clear that the conflict in Syria is spilling over into Lebanon, Iraq and Israel.  Can Jordan and Turkey be far behind? It is possible for the United States and its allies to hobble al-Assad’s air power using stand-off weapons.  Doing so would stop him from both resupplying his forces and from attacking from the air.  A no-fly zone would require more effort, but careful study makes clear that al-Assad’s air defenses are little match for the U.S. or NATO aircraft.

Why now?  Because now may be the last moment the United States can affect the course of the battle for Syria. The issue for the Obama administration is not how, but if. If the president wants to help oust al-Assad.  If the president wants to end the bloodshed.  If the president believes the future of the Middle East is a vital national interest to the United States.  None of that is yet clear.

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Topics: Middle East • Syria

soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Andersen

    Why should not NATO countries intervene, bring PEACE to Syria, and in long-term should Syria join the NATO alliance. This makes more sense, than spending money on non-productive USA – South Korea collaboration, that is not in line with NATO doctrine.

    May 31, 2013 at 9:27 am | Reply
  2. matslats

    > the regime is widely believed to have resorted to the use of chemical weapons
    LIES LIES. Carla del Ponte in the Hague is investigataing OUR GUYS for using chemical weapons.
    The only people that 'believe' Assad used them are readers of the Mainstream media.

    May 31, 2013 at 10:09 am | Reply
  3. Death to Islam

    If there is one thing above all that NATO should do, it is to refuse all alliances with Muslims.
    Muslims are the biggest enemy of NATO. We should not harbor them within our borders or support them in any way.
    There is no place in NATO for a theocracy to rule the world as Islam seeks to do.
    And there is no place in Islam for any western freedoms at all. Theocracies never have freedom or justice.
    Islam is a totalitarian theocracy. There is no room for compromise. They kill or crush all non-Muslims and lie about everything. Islam is a criminal ideology. No Muslim is honest where Islam is concerned.

    May 31, 2013 at 10:28 am | Reply
    • JASC92

      news for you. Turkey, a muslim nation, is Part of NATO allready.

      May 31, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Reply
    • Ferhat Balkan

      Turkey has been a member of NATO since 1952 and has the 2nd largest army after the US.

      May 31, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Reply
  4. Marine5484

    Here we go again with this stupid pleading for U.S. intervention into Syria by another right-wing fanatic, Danielle Pletka! This never seems to stop! This time a no-fly zone and tomorrow "boots on the ground". These people can't even rule Iraq and Libya by what's going on in these two countries and now they want to run Syria. How ludicrous!

    May 31, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Marine5484, I agree. The author wrote: "Why now? Good question".
      She was the only one who asked this question and her answer couldn't be more contradictory.

      June 2, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Leaders don't seem to learn from history! Iraq is a vivid example!
      The only way to bring the civil war in Syria to an end is to let the Sunnis and the Alawites have their own autonomy and statehood. The others could choose, whom they would want to join.

      June 2, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Marine5484, you know what? This post is the best Danielle Pletka has written for GPS sofar! More facts than neocon rhetorics!

      June 2, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Reply
  5. Rick

    With USA abundant supply of Natural Gas giving USA an opportunity to not only become energy independant (especially from M.E. OPEC countries) but at the same time giving USA an opportunity to become a global supplier of energy competing in equal level with Saudi Arabia (and Russia) – Clearly the USA has no more interest in the Middle East as it does in Africa (the USA did not offer anything to attempting to prevent the massacres in Rwanda during the 1990s because there was nothing for the USA to gain from it.) Hence, demcocracy in the M.E. should not and must not be USA's priority. USA becoming energy independant serves notice that USA does not need the M.E. anymore. The USA furhtermore should not involve itself with the preserverance of Israel – the real reason why USA is villified in the M.E. – and its not because USA exploits M.E. Oil. USA must send a clear message to Israel that they are on their own when they decide to bomb another soveriegn country. And should Israeli action drive them to a path of destruction then the USA MUST not have any interest in their perservaerance because USA is NOT Isarel East. It is appaling to Americans that Israelis think they can do anything to Arab countries with impunity simply because they beleive that USA will always finish the dirty works they start – that assumption needs to end. The USA must now focus on money making regions – Asia – and leave the M.E. to implode without looking back. The M.E is just like Africa – a money sucking void where money is just simply lost.

    May 31, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Reply
    • John

      No, not Asia. In Asia there is no Money for America. Why are USA being dragged into all these wars. Because, USA collaborated with ´wrong friends´ (enemies), such as S.Korea and China. No more, please.

      May 31, 2013 at 10:56 pm | Reply
    • bryan

      Your disgusting referral lacks everything American. You, sir, lack any moral value ..and speak for your self. I will stand with Israel.

      May 31, 2013 at 11:15 pm | Reply
  6. sand

    its time to remove usa britain and australia let the irish half breeds burn to ashes in a nuclear ocean its time for iran to hit with all it has assad should also prepare hes chemical weapons its time to gas out the jewish c o c k r o a c h e s its time to rock just start sending the jews in so iran and syria and hezbollah can cut them down with swords.

    May 31, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Reply
    • sand

      I like to wear a speedo with my fannypack.

      May 31, 2013 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  7. Finish That Thought

    Ridiculous...Ignorant...You cannot impose a "No Fly Zone" without a UN resolution, and that it is just not going to happen.

    May 31, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Reply
    • JASC92

      sure as hell can, The USA can impose a no-fly zone because there is no-one that can stop it or do anything about it.

      May 31, 2013 at 5:54 pm | Reply
      • Patrick

        I'm afraid you're right, JASC92. The very idea of this happening scares the daylights out of me, but the right-wing thugs in Washington will most probably do it in the end. These goons can't even rule Iraq effectively but now they want to take over in Syria! How ridiculous!

        May 31, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
  8. ZT

    Ms Pletka's analysis does not factor the strategic interests and responses of Iran, Russia and China.
    Air-conditioned offices at AEI have a way of distorting reality.

    May 31, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Reply
  9. Andrew

    Unfortunatelly or fortunatelly, USA is not strong enough to impose no-fly zone, alone. Together with the NATO alliance this can be successfully accomplished. No doubt about that.

    June 1, 2013 at 10:04 am | Reply
    • Frank M.

      Wrong. Really wrong. The US is the only country that do it alone. And effectively. While I do not advocate troops on the ground, get your info straight.

      June 1, 2013 at 11:59 pm | Reply
  10. Gray

    The US has the ability to impose a unilateral no-fly zone over Syria, but the risk of regional conflagration, which also includes Russia (a Doomsday Scenario) is possible.


    If it even began to look like we were preparing to impose a no-fly zone, the Russians would immediately supply Assad with S-300 and possibly even S-400 systems. As such, it would be imperative that we destroyed them. This would risk killing Russian personnel.

    June 2, 2013 at 1:19 am | Reply
  11. rightospeak

    Raw ,disgusting propaganda to get us in more wars. We need to ship the author to a war zone and give her a rifle . The article funded by war criminals and war profiteers.

    June 2, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Reply
  12. rightospeak

    I have a better idea. We need to ship her to Libya to check on war crimes and Human Right abuses with Jimmy Carter.

    June 2, 2013 at 7:40 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Great idea, rightospeak. Thank you.

      June 3, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Reply
  13. Name*Raymo

    A no fly zone would save hundreds of lives, tell Russia to back off. "Just Do It"

    January 13, 2014 at 9:45 pm | Reply

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