Syria may become a “no-fly zone” yet, for the U.S.

For years, many have advocated that the U.S. enforce a no-fly zone in Syria. Doing so would have prevented the slaughter of thousands of innocent civilians by Bashar al-Assad’s air force.

Would a no-fly zone have led to Assad’s ouster? It’s not clear. Would Assad’s ouster have been, on balance, a positive development for America? That’s not clear either. The answers may depend on when, during this long and sickening saga, we acted.

In any case, these questions are merely academic ones now that Russian planes are bombing on Assad’s behalf. There’s no way Obama will impose a no-fly zone under these circumstances.

Putin’s bombing, by the way, is not being directed at ISIS, according to the reports I’ve seen. So far, the targets have been in areas, such as the city of Homs, where ISIS is not thought to be a serious factor.

Apparently, the Russians want to focus, as Assad has, on enemies other than ISIS. These include the Free Syrian Army which the U.S. backs (sort of). It reportedly has been attacked by Russian planes.

It makes sense that Russia might abstain seriously from going after ISIS. Assad’s other enemies are the main contenders for control of areas essential to his continued rule. Moreover, some believe that Assad and the Russians need ISIS as a purveyor of chaos and a reminder of what might happen if Assad falls.

We may still get a no-fly zone in Syria, however. The Daily Beast reports that a Russian general asked the U.S. to remove its planes from Syrian airspace just before Russia began its airstrikes there. Reportedly, the U.S. received an hour’s notice.

U.S. officials conceded that Russia’s action was a rebuke of talks between President Obama and Vladimir Putin about “deconfliction.” Deconfliction — the perfect non-word to describe an imaginary concept (in this context, at least).

A senior official told the Daily Beast, “this bypasses legitimate discussion.” That’s one way of describing having your nose rubbed in it. “Kiss my…” is a more accurate rendering.

The Russian directive to the U.S. is emblematic of the Putin-Obama relationship, which Arthur Herman describes as that of an alpha male and his poodle. In a must-read column for NRO, Herman writes:

For every aggressive move Putin has made on the international stage, first in Crimea and Ukraine in Europe, and now in Syria, our president’s response has been largely verbal protestations followed by resolute inaction.

Why should Putin not assume that when he orders the U.S. to stop its own air strikes against ISIS in Syria, and to leave the skies to the Russians, he won’t be obeyed?

Herman concludes:

Obama’s fantasy [of a cooperative relationship with Russia and Iran] has turned U.S. policy in the region inside out – and propelled Russia back into the ranks of the world’s superpowers. The next president will have to deal with the consequences of that passivity.

Unless the next president happens to be Donald Trump, who believes that farming Syria out to Russia is just fine.

UPDATE: John Kerry says that the U.S. will continue its air strikes, such as they are, against ISIS in Syria. It will be interesting to see whether (or to what extent) Russia’s entry into Syrian air affects our efforts.