By Robert Parry, the investigative reporter who many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. Originally published at Parry’s Consortium News (republished with permission).
While the major news media focused on Donald Trump’s agnostic response about whether he would respect the results of the Nov. 8 election, Hillary Clinton slipped in a little-noticed but important revision to her call for a “no-fly zone” in Syria, suggesting that it would be negotiated with Russia and Syria.
“This would not be done just on the first day,” Clinton replied to a question about the military cost and human toll that imposing a no-fly zone would require. “This would take a lot of negotiation. And it would also take making it clear to the Russians and the Syrians that our purpose here was to provide safe zones on the ground.”
Before Wednesday night, Clinton had left the impression that the U.S. military would unilaterally impose a “no-fly zone” on Syria, a military action that not only would violate international law but would require a major commitment of U.S. forces to destroy Syrian air defenses and to shoot down planes from the Syrian and possibly the Russian air forces.
President Obama and the U.S. military high command have resisted pressure to implement Clinton’s suggestion because of the potential for killing large numbers of civilians and dragging the United States into a wider war, potentially a clash with nuclear-armed Russia.
Debate moderator Chris Wallace noted, “General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says you impose a no-fly zone, chances are you’re going to get into a war – his words — with Syria and Russia. So the question I have is, if you impose a no-fly zone — first of all, how do you respond to their concerns? Secondly, if you impose a no-fly zone and a Russian plane violates that, does President Clinton shoot that plane down?”
Breaking from her usual belligerent tone, Clinton repackaged her idea as something quite different, a diplomatic initiative to persuade the Syrian and Russian governments that they should allow the creation of a “safe zone” so Syrians fleeing the fighting could have a place to live inside Syria.
Clinton said: “We’ve had millions of people leave Syria and those millions of people inside Syria who have been dislocated. So I think we could strike a deal and make it very clear to the Russians and the Syrians that this was something that we believe was in the best interests of the people on the ground in Syria, it would help us with our fight against ISIS.”
Whether the Syrian leadership and the Russian government would accept such a plan is doubtful, since it would amount to inviting the U.S. or NATO military to establish a beachhead inside Syria from which rebels, terrorists and other insurgents could operate beyond the reach of military retaliation.
The Syrians and the Russians are also well aware of the duplicity of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011 when she led the effort to persuade the United Nations Security Council to authorize an emergency program to protect Libyan civilians around Benghazi from an offensive by the Libyan army seeking to root out Al Qaeda-connected terror groups
Once the Security Council agreed (with Russia abstaining rather than vetoing the plan), U.S.-coordinated airstrikes decimated the Libyan government’s forces. Next, NATO military advisers began assisting the rebels on the ground, with the “humanitarian” mission quickly morphing into a “regime change” operation, with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi driven from power, captured, tortured and murdered.
After Gaddafi’s death on Oct. 20, 2011, Clinton exulted in a TV interview, “We came; we saw; he died.”
So, a President Clinton isn’t likely to get the benefit of the doubt again, especially since she has made clear that her desire is to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad suffer a fate similar to Gaddafi’s. Clinton’s open hostility toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom she’s compared to Hitler, also is not likely to make Russia eager for concessions.
But Clinton’s repackaged “no-fly zone” – as a negotiated undertaking, rather than a unilateral act of war – suggests that the Democratic presidential nominee is at least trying to present a less warmongering face to the American voters, especially to peace-oriented Democrats. Whether the American people have any more faith in Clinton’s words than the Syrians and Russians do is another question.