Should the U.S. Implement a No-Fly Zone in Syria?

Should the U.S. Implement a No-Fly Zone in Syria?

Weighing the reality of a no-fly zone: A Point-Counterpoint from your Editors

Please note that this piece discusses arguments for and against implementing a No Fly Zone but does not claim to represent the opinions of The Contour News or any of its editors.

Why the U.S. should say yes:

The effects of the refugee situation in Syria are far-reaching—neighboring and remote nations alike are constantly revising policies regarding their respective roles in offering sanctuary for fleeing Syrians. However, nations hope to do more than open up their homes and offer a temporary solution. Recently, the U.S. has tackled the possibility of implementing a “no-fly zone” in Syria, hoping to prohibit air raids in specified safe zones, which would stem the displacement and outward flow of Syrians. While the practicality of such a proposition is still in the works, a no-fly zone would not only address the humanitarian crisis of Syria, but also shift the dynamics of the complex power struggle between Russia and American influences in Syria. This would redirect the conflict in Syria and possibly improve the civilian situation for the long-term.

The aerial safe zone advocated by a no-fly zone would intervene with aircrafts mainly controlled by President Assad’s forces; Assad has been notorious for the deaths of many Syrians, implementing measures that fail to exclusively target government opposition groups. Hillary Clinton, supporter of the no-fly zone, advocates that air intervention would provide “humanitarian corridors” for civilians caught in the crossfires of conflict.

The no-fly zone is an important step for the U.S. because it advocates active involvement in Syrian affairs. Ameliorating the issue of displacement of Syrians from back home does not tackle the Syrian crisis at heart, which is that strife between multifarious militant groups – Assad on the Russian side, ISIS, and various opposition groups backed by the U.S. – will continue to threaten lives unless a diplomatic resolution is achieved between Russia and the U.S., or unless the dynamics of the conflict change. Russia and the U.S. are cooperating against the more imminent threat posed by ISIS, but fighting the IS is one of the only issues with which Russia and the U.S. see eye-to-eye. The quasi-joined forces are mutually incompatible: while Russia supports and (in essence) controls Assad’s dictatorship, the U.S. has been aiding rebellious militant opposition groups against Assad’s oppressive government.

read about the Syrian situation that sparked this discussion

A no-fly zone has the potential to forever alter these power dynamics. Russia has been entirely against the no-fly zone and just weeks ago imported lethal anti-aircraft weapons designed to keep the U.S. out of the sky. Russia’s actions follow a steady decline in the Assad regime. Not only would a no-fly zone end Assad’s bombing of civilians in northern and southern Syria, it could potentially push out Russia’s influence in Syria altogether. This would allow the US to commandeer the dynamics of the conflict in Syria, ideally bringing it to a halt.

Twisting power out of Russia’s hands could have explosive consequences on all sides. However, continuing bloodshed under the current diplomatic impasse is foolish for the United States and all major powers now involved in the sheltering of Syrian refugees. Opponents of the no-fly zone advocate that controlling the air would drain unnecessary resources, but the U.S. has been looking to increase its involvement in alleviating the refugee crisis, thus committing resources to bettering the situation through reactive means. If the U.S. were to staunch the flow of refugees through a no-fly zone, it would redirect those resources towards a more potent cause.

The task would be dangerous. With the 2011 Iraqi war, one can see how foreign involvement is a tide-turner, sometimes for the worse. As some historians speculate, out of the “ashes” of Al-Qaeda of Iraq rose the ISIS itself because the U.S. has failed to leave behind a “stabilizing force” in the aftermath of war. If the U.S. recognizes the dangers of a no-fly zone and still pushes forward with enforcing the no-fly zone, it must consider the extended involvement that to which it is committing when the landscape transforms and conflicts shift. At the same time, the Syrian crisis is on the brink of change; it is up to the U.S. to assert the importance of ending conflict by tackling the root of the problem and implementing a no-fly zone. Of course, these steps must be taken with vigilance. Cynics vehemently protest and fear the uncertainty of change, but when we see media coverage of the sufferings of the Syrians, of the dead three year old boy that washed up on the Turkish shore, we will know that a no-fly zone is one step in the right direction.

Why a No-Fly Zone could be foolish:

Democrats and Republicans have recently dropped their gloves, coming head-to-head in their contentions over whether the United States ought to effectively make Syria a no-fly zone. In midst of a brutal civil war that has seen more than 220,000 deaths over the past four years, several million refugees have fled from the brutality of Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. Assad, however, is not the only tyrannical force Syrians have to think about – the Islamic militant group, ISIS, has recently come to prominence in the region and established a name for itself in terrorizing the Syrian people.

Contrary to Hillary Clinton and the Republicans who support making Syria a no-fly zone, President Obama and fellow Democrats vehemently oppose the option for good reason. The first red-flag to consider, as Bernie Sanders warns, is “the cost of war.” The United States debt is currently estimated to be some $18 trillion. The monetary cost of ensuring that unauthorized aircrafts neither enter nor exit Syrian air space would be monstrous. 

Perhaps even more impractical would be the military cost of enforcing a no-fly zone.  There is absolutely no way that the United States could effectively enforce a No-Fly Zone without risking serious potential consequences.  Consider the war in Iraq, a recent but poignant example, as a precautionary tale of what happens when the U.S. gets involved too heavily in foreign conflict.  What the Bush administration imagined would be a quick conflict lasted for over a decade, and it only ended because Obama so ardently promised during his campaigns that he would “end the war in Iraq.”  He did, in fact, end the war in Iraq by pulling out U.S. troops, but immediately after Obama fulfilled his campaign promise and pulled out U.S. troops, ISIS came to power.  Such a conundrum serves as nothing if not a cautionary tale of what could happen if the U.S. entrenches itself too deeply in foreign conflict.

Some have argued that the no-fly zone might lead to ISIS’s taking control of Syria. Such critics contend that the no-fly zone would effectively diminish the number and power of Assad’s planes flying over the country.  As the no-fly zone would weaken Assad’s power, ISIS may well be able to take control of Syria.  In essence, ISIS, a common enemy of both United States and Assad, poses a greater direct threat to international security than does Assad, so the current United States position on imposing a no-fly zone seems like the most practical and effective one for our country right now.

Arab League supports No Fly Zone (courtesy of www.news.com.au)
Arab League supports No Fly Zone (courtesy of www.news.com.au)

Now, there are some, like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, who fervently support the no-fly zone. Their arguments, however, are inherently weak. Right off the bat, Clinton has advocated for the creation of a no-fly zone, but she has kept such advocacy extremely vague; she has neither specified which countries she would like to enforce the no-fly zone nor indicated the extent to which the United States Military would be involved.  As Obama points out, “There’s a difference between running for president and being president. And the decisions that are being made and the discussions that I’m having with the joint chiefs become much more specific and require, I think, a different kind of judgment.” Obama points it out somewhat subtly, but the discerning reader can easily infer that Clinton may simply be attempting to win votes in going against the man under whom she worked as secretary of state.

The United States ultimately has no business involving itself in a foreign conflict such as the Syrian Civil War.  We don’t have the money; the potential consequences of engaging further in the conflict—as the discerning American can understand by considering what happened and is still currently happening in Iraq—outweighs the potential benefits we might reap, and to top things off, the last thing we need right now is to throw a jab at Russia.  It seems then, that the answer to whether the United States should further engage in Syria is a flagrantly indisputable and definitive no.

by Allison Huang ’17 and Scott Newman ’17

*As Published in The Lawrence*