Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

No-fly zone would save lives of Syrian civilians

  • Print

I spent a year and a half enforcing "no-fly" zones over Iraq and the Balkans. My experiences convinced me that the United States should declare and enforce a no-fly zone over Syria. We would do well to remember the era of no-fly zones and what they did and didn’t do.

Those who oppose a no-fly zone cite the risks: Syria has a formidable air-defence network. Policy-makers fear the prospect of U.S. pilots being shot down or dragged through the streets of Damascus. Moreover, many contend that a no-fly zone will not solve the conflict. Only by arming the rebels will the tide be turned, they say, and many of those rebels are jihadists with whom we do not want to partner. Critics of a no-fly zone also fear a slippery slope of escalated military involvement that will lead to a quagmire.

These detractors miss the point, which is that a no-fly zone is only part of the solution. Its purpose is not to resolve the conflict but to prevent escalation, protect innocents and provide leverage to negotiations. In essence, a no-fly zone takes away a single tool of violence — the use of aviation — possessed by the oppressor.

Absent the no-fly zones in Bosnia, the Serbs and Croats would have wrought even more destruction than they did. Absent the no-fly zones in Iraq, one can imagine what Saddam Hussein’s air force would have done to the minority Kurds and Shiites.

The situation in Syria is no different. Bashar al-Assad turned his military on his own citizens, and the tactical advantages his air force possesses are decisive. The goal of the United States and its allies would be to lessen the continued descent into a bloodbath that, over the past two-plus years, has claimed more than 70,000 lives, displaced 3.6 million people inside Syria and forced about 1.3 million to seek refuge outside of Syria.

Americans are understandably chastened by the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. We witness the chaos of Libya after the use of air power without a subsequent commitment of ground forces, and we are even more reluctant to engage. Many advocate a pragmatic, "lead from behind" style, arguing that we must now reason with cold-blooded calculus. Such a view misunderstands the options and their ability to influence the situation in Syria.

The logic of the 1990s was that aggressive enforcement of no-fly zones would aid civilians victimized by these conflicts, prevent escalation and, with the threat of air strikes, end the conflicts more quickly. Those are limited objectives, but they are not insignificant.

Admittedly, air power is no panacea. We witnessed its limits during the Kosovo air campaign of 1999. Slobodan Milosevic called NATO’s bluff and didn’t back down after the first days of air strikes. It is important to acknowledge the distinction between the power to deny or destroy and the power to seize or hold forcibly.

A no-fly zone is feasible. Yes, Syria possesses capable air defences, but they are no match for U.S. air power. I flew missions over Sarajevo; over Pristina, Kosovo; over Nasiriyah and Mosul, Iraq. Not once during any of those air missions did I feel as threatened as I did than when I patrolled the highways of Iraq in a Humvee. We must not lose confidence out of fear by overestimating our opponent’s capabilities.

A no-fly zone will not immediately end the conflict, but neutralizing the Syrian air force will erase one of the regime’s decisive advantages and lead to a major turning point in the conflict. Doing so is not only morally right but also in our strategic interest. The spillover of violence into Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq is already happening.

Moreover, in a post-Assad Syria, the opposition will not forget which nations came to its aid. That was the case in Bosnia and Kosovo, and it has been the case throughout the Muslim world during the recent government upheavals. It was also the case in Iraq, until the occupation spiraled downward into a chaotic insurgency that we initially failed to grasp.

A no-fly zone will provide more options in working with the commander of the Free Syrian Army, Gen. Salim Idriss. With established "safe zones," Syrian rebels could be trained inside Syria. It will open the door for building governance in liberated areas.

A no-fly zone does not address the questions of a major covert-action program and those consequent risks. But it can lessen the slaughter, and it positions the United States on the right side of the conflict, morally and strategically.

As Nobel Peace Prize laureate Eli Wiesel eloquently said, "We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim."

We must take sides and not just pay lip service to a peaceful resolution.

Scott Cooper, a Marine aviator for 20 years, deployed five times to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.

— The Washington Post

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

The Whiteboard - Jets' 5-on-3 penalty kill

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local-(Standup photo)- A wood duck swims through the water with fall refections in Kildonan Park Thursday afternoon.
  • BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS  070527 The 21st Annual Teddy Bears' Picnic at Assiniboine Park. The Orlan Ukrainian Dancers perform on stage.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Will you watch The Interview?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google