President Obama may have been forced to back down from his threat to bomb the Assad regime in Syria last year after a massive public outcry, but that doesn’t mean it ever left the agenda. Within less than a week of bombing of ISIS, the U.S. is already considering imposing a “no-fly zone” against the Syrian government to “protect civilians.”
We have already seen this “no-fly zone” talk before by this administration. We found out that in Libya, a “no-fly zone” means attempting to assassinate the existing head of state and regime change. In fact, The New York Times ran the exact same story in February 2011 about Libya. Compare:
Both stories have the president considering intervention—termed as a “no-fly zone”—with the same justification: to protect civilians. Yet we already know how this played out in practice. From day 1 of the intervention, coalition forces were not hitting air targets—they were targeting Libya forces on the ground. In fact, U.S. immediately abandoned their UN mandate to protect civilians and bombed Qaddafi’s family and then attempted to assassinate Qaddafi himself, ultimately leading to his gruesome killing by rebel forces. “We came. We saw. He died,” Hillary Clinton joked to CBS News.
Behind closed doors, NATO allies have explicitly been considering the same kind of bait-and-switch for years. Senior European sources told a Kuwaiti paper in 2011 that the “no-fly zone” is intended to “cripple” Syrian forces “in less than 24 hours.” It would include a “ban on the movement of Syrian military forces, designed to neutralize Syria’s ability to carry out air strikes.” Bombing was back on the table in September 2013 when Obama requested congressional authorization for an attack. An AP article from August of this year implies that the U.S. may have been considering preemptive strikes against the regime “to avoid unintentionally strengthening the Syrian government.”
Now that bombs are dropping in Syria, the administration feels free to hit whoever they want. It has already bombed non-ISIS rebel targets, and now Gen. Martin Dempsey is saying that “a buffer zone might at some point become a possibility,” adding a new euphemism for war. The president himself has already said that he would “order American forces to wipe out Syria’s air defense system” and ultimately “overthrow” Assad if Syrian forces fire on U.S. forces, which would be the inevitable outcome of a no-fly zone.
U.S. officials said the day the Syrian bombing began that they would not “make it easy for Assad to reclaim territory,” but refused to say how. According to pro-Assad sources, the administration’s decision to bomb Syrian oil refineries in Dayr el Zor held temporarily by ISIS may have actually been intended to hurt regime forces poised to retake the city. In fact, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the refineries were actually controlled by civilians.
President Obama and his hawk advisors have adopted a policy positions – Assad must go – but a strategy – arming rebel groups – that he has admitted will not work. This is a recipe for mission creep, and even if Obama refuses to give into his advisors on this point today, just like arming the rebels, bombing Assad, and destroying ISIS, don’t be surprised if he flips.