The U.S. must implement a no-fly zone over Syria to prevent further bloodshed and end a conflict that has claimed over 40,000 lives, Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) argue in an op-ed piece published in The Washington Post on Sunday.
According to the three Senators, once referred to as the “three amigos” by General David Petraeus, the U.S. must take decisive action to thwart President Bashar al-Assad from using attack helicopters and fighter jets against the Syrian population. The U.S. should make use of “Patriot missile batteries en route to Turkey, to protect people in northern Syria from Assad’s aerial attacks.”
They contend that the Obama administration’s policies have failed to stop the slaughter because the U.S. has relied too heavily on non-lethal assistance, 70 percent of which ends up in regime-controlled areas while “people in the opposition-held north of Syria are starving, freezing and dying from disease because of shortages of food, fuel and medical supplies.”
U.S. reluctance to intervene directly has allowed extremist groups to fill the void who “appear to be the only ones stepping in to help Syrians in the fight” as moderates within the Syrian opposition are discredited and undercut due to lack of support.
Although the trio has been consistently hawkish, their calls for a no-fly zone have found support in Washington and among the general public. In early December the Senate voted 92 to 6 in favor of the U.S. investigating the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone over Syria, requiring the Pentagon to report back to Congress within 90 days.
According to an ABC/Washington Post survey, although 73 percent of Americans are against direct military intervention in Syria, 62 percent said they favor a no-fly zone, assuming no ground troops are deployed.
While the Senators argue that a no-fly zone would not require putting U.S. troops on the ground, many military experts believe the approach is fraught with peril. Before the Libyan intervention Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress that a no-fly zone is, after all, “an act of war.”
Daniel Trombly, one of the bloggers at Abu Muqawama, claims that no-fly zones “offer a simple-to-advocate, easy-to-obfuscate, and emotionally and symbolically appealing policy prescription,” which can lead to months of close air support, bombing, and prolonged occupation by peacekeeping forces.
Experts at the Heritage Foundation say the temptation must be resisted to compare the current crisis with Libya because NATO did not simply impose a no-fly zone in Libya, it carried out robust airstrikes against regime command-and-control centers, military hardware and supply depots. Syria’s formidable Russian-made air defense systems provide it with 10 times more anti-aircraft capability, not to mention the threat posed by its chemical weapons program.
Plus, as Trombly mentions, the no-fly zone had little to do with the toppling of Gaddafi. Supportive airstrikes unrelated to denying the use of airspace were more critical in allowing the rebels to enter Libya’s capital.
Meanwhile, Saturday represented the deadliest day since the conflict in Syria began in March of 2011, with the death toll reaching nearly 400. Over half of those killed were rounded up and executed by government forces. UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi claimed that more than 100,000 more will be killed if the war lasts another year.