Home/Daniel Larison/A “No-Fly Zone” in Syria Is Still Insane

A “No-Fly Zone” in Syria Is Still Insane

Michael Ignatieff and Leon Wieseltier make a predictably horrible plea for more military intervention in Syria:

Operating under a NATO umbrella, the United States could use its naval and air assets in the region to establish a no-fly zone from Aleppo to the Turkish border and make clear that it will prevent the continued bombardment of civilians and refugees by any party, including the Russians. It could use the no-fly zone to keep open the corridor with Turkey and use its assets to resupply the city and internally displaced people in the region with humanitarian assistance.

If the Russians and Syrians seek to prevent humanitarian protection and resupply of the city, they would face the military consequences [bold mine-DL].

Ignatieff and Wieseltier are at least honest enough to acknowledge that they want to risk war with Russia. Some advocates for a “no-fly zone” in Syria try to deny that the risk exists. Fanatical interventionists that they are, the authors are not concerned about the risk of war with a nuclear-armed major power, and so they dismiss the dangers of their preferred course of action by saying, “risk is no excuse for doing nothing.” That’s insane. If the choice is between “doing nothing” and potentially starting a war with Russia, the risk that such a war would necessarily entail is an outstanding excuse. Avoiding an even larger, more destructive conflict with one of the world’s major powers is as good a reason for rejecting military intervention as one is likely to find.

It is important to understand that a “no-fly zone” would first require the U.S. (and it would be primarily U.S. planes that would be involved) to destroy Syrian air defenses and the Russian air defenses that have been moved into the country in the last few months. That would mean initiating open hostilities against the Syrian government and Russia, and it would mean killing Syrian and Russian military personnel. It’s also possible that some Iranian personnel on the ground would be killed along with them. Just like that, the U.S. would be at war with two states and risking war with one more. We don’t know exactly how Russia and Iran would retaliate, but we have to assume that they would seek to do harm to U.S. allies and clients in response, and we would also have to assume that U.S. forces elsewhere in the region could come under attack. Absurdly, the “solution” they offer wouldn’t even remedy the problem at hand, since a “no-fly zone” by itself wouldn’t keep Syrian forces on the ground from killing civilians with artillery.

It goes without saying that Ignatieff and Wieseltier don’t consider any of the likely consequences of the military action they demand, and they don’t even pay lip service to all the ways this could go horribly wrong. Interventionists like them never do. They are very vocal about denouncing the immorality of existing Syria policy, but they don’t even try to reckon with the far more destructive war they have no problem with starting.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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