Why We Should Be Skeptical of a No-Fly Zone in Syria

After the most recent chlorine gas attack in Syria, there is a petition on Avaaz.org calling for a no-fly zone, a proposal backed by the United States, NATO and countries in the region such as Turkey. There seems to be an assumption that anyone who would oppose such a move is somehow condoning the violence committed by the Syrian regime or is an apologist and supporter of Bashar al-Assad, so this article must be prefaced by saying that any human who directly or indirectly kills an innocent person, regardless of the circumstances, commits a crime for which there should be accountability. What is really at issue here, however, is the idea that the United States, NATO and regional players such as Turkey can be trusted to make the right decision and not act out of geostrategic concerns rather than humanitarian ones.

Turkey has made it abundantly clear that it will not involve itself further in the US-led fight against ISIS unless the fight is part of a broader campaign to topple Assad in Syria. Why?

In 2009, Qatar put forward a proposal to run a pipeline through Syria and Turkey and into Europe to export gas from Saudi Arabia. The Assad regime instead forged an agreement with Iran and Iraq to run a pipeline into Europe leaving out Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey completely. When one looks at the biggest regional contributors to the Syrian conflict, it is not perplexing to discover that the latter three countries are the biggest players in the push to oust Assad.

Being on the border of Syria, Turkey is heavily involved in more ways than one and has been directly responsible for the smuggling of weapons that were raided from Libyan armories. One could argue that without these weapons, the people of Syria wouldn’t stand a chance against the Syrian regime; but these weapons also enable rebels to commit war crimes on a huge scale. Is Turkey motivated by human rights concerns?

In 2011, the UN allowed NATO to establish a no-fly zone in Libya. The UN Security Council resolution authorizing this was stretched into a bombing campaign that destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure, resulting in a number of civilian deaths before eventually assassinating Libya’s leader, as it was French and US bombers that struck Muammar el-Qaddafi’s motorcade. Of course, we were told that this was necessary to protect civilians from a mass slaughter, however, that rationale proved to be false.

According to the UN Human Development Index for 2010, Libya had the highest standard of living out of any country in Africa. The country is now in a perpetual state of civil war and ISIS has managed to find a stronghold there, something that would have been difficult to do had Qaddafi remained in power. Speaking of Africa, it is estimated that more than 5 million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to fighting over mineral resources and lack of reasonable medical care, but this story does not feature much in the mainstream media.

Should we trust the powers that be to make the right decision regarding Syria?

It is unwise to underestimate the geostrategic importance of Syria. The founder and CEO of Stratfor, George Friedman, hinted briefly in an interview that the CIA-manufactured toppling of Yanukovych in Ukraine was a move to target Russia for its interference in the Obama administration’s proposal to bomb Syria in 2013. This is even further demonstrated when one reads Resolution 758, which calls on the Russian Federation to “cease its support for the Assad regime in Syria,” as well as the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014, which directs the president to impose sanctions on “an entity owned by the government of the Russian Federation or controlled by its nationals that transfers or brokers the transfer to, or knowingly manufactures or sells defense articles transferred to, Syria or into the territory of a specified country without its government’s consent.” How a legislature can put Assad and Syria, Ukraine, and Russia in the same pieces of legislation is beyond me. (Obviously there are other factors surrounding the deterioration of Russia, Ukraine and US relations, but that is for a separate article.)

The Syrian conflict is at serious risk of escalating as just recently the Syrian government took credit for the shooting down of a US drone. Should the US turn their missiles on Assad, it must be known that this conflict will erupt dramatically. Since 2005, Iran and Syria have been bound by a mutual defense agreement. There are already hundreds, if not thousands, of Iranians on the ground in Syria. In fact, an Iranian general was assassinated in Syria by an Israeli airstrike earlier this year with little to no outrage from the international community.

In 2014, China proposed a Eurasian security pact that would include Russia and Iran and exclude the United States and its major allies, not to mention that nuclear giants Russia and China have warned countless times that they will view an attack on Iran as a threat to their own security. Does this domino trajectory that we are on need any more explaining? This codifying of allegiances is the formation of what historians may one day refer to as the third global conflict.

There are more than enough reasons to despise Assad. However, it is not clear that what follows would put the country on track for stability. Al-Nusra, ISIS and other affiliated organizations control huge swaths of Syria and have been able to do so through the weakening of Assad. Leaders of the US-backed Free Syrian Army have not only stated that they regularly conduct joint operations with al-Nusra (Syria’s official branch of al-Qaeda), but have also said that it is their desire that Syria be ruled by sharia law (a legal system that is also known to accommodate numerous human rights concerns). Let’s not forget that Libyans who took up arms against Qaddafi have been quoted as saying they wish they hadn’t in view of the chaos that followed.

The other grand hypocritical aspect of this is that it suggests that if the Occupy Wall Street movement had turned into an armed uprising with factions of al-Qaeda and other fascist groups joining the fight that the US government and its institutions would not respond violently. The US police already respond violently to unarmed homeless people, summarily executing them in broad daylight. The Israeli government responds to homemade rockets by bombing densely populated areas, hospitals and disability centers. Does this justify the Assad regime’s actions? No. But surely the above information puts this conflict in perspective. We should also be vigilant when presented with evidence of attacks committed by the Assad regime because the last time the United States blamed a chemical attack on the Assad regime, they hugely distorted the facts.

We should be skeptical of those in power who claim they have a solution to the Syrian conflict – a solution already attempted in Libya, which has resulted in a country with a high standard of living deteriorating into a failed state.