• Looking Ahead: Clinton’s Plans for Syria

    October 25, 2016

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Military, Syria

    Hillary Clinton has a plan for defeating Islamic State in Syria. Donald Trump has one, too. With the conflict in Syria spreading beyond its borders, it’s essential to understand the new president’s strategies and how they may need to be adjusted over the next four years.

    Trump: Safe Zones

    Trump has advocated for a “safe zone” for Syrians to ride out the conflict. Such a zone would be a swath of territory inside the country, where today’s refugees would reside instead of fleeing to Europe and elsewhere. Trump has offered no details on how such a zone would be created, or by whom. American support for this initiative, Trump has made clear, would be limited to some economic assistance, with the bulk of the costs borne by the Gulf States. Though Trump does not support a no-fly zone per se, it seems difficult anyone could create and protect a safe zone without a no-fly-zone.

    Clinton: No Fly Zones

    Clinton has also made the case for safe zones, as well as consistently proposing a no-fly zone. America, under Clinton’s plan, would make a portion of Syrian national airspace inaccessible to any but potentially its own planes. Russian strike aircraft and Syrian government helicopters would risk being shot down.

    Clinton has said the no-fly zone would “create those safe refuges within Syria, to try to protect people on the ground both from Assad’s forces, who continue to drop barrel bombs, and from ISIS. And of course, it has to be de-conflicted with the Russians, who are also flying in that space.” She has also stated that “A no-fly zone would prevent the outflow of refugees and give us a chance to have some safe spaces.”

    Clinton’s no-fly zone, and in practical terms, Trump’s safe zone, both open the same door to a greatly enlarged conflict.

    General Martin Dempsey, the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained in 2012 imposing a no-fly zone would require as many as 70,000 American servicepeople to dismantle Syria’s air defense system, as a no-fly zone could not coexist alongside the possibility Assad might shoot down American aircraft. An attack on Assad of that magnitude would almost certainly demand a response; how would Russia come to the defense of its ally?

    In addition, any no-fly zone (or safe zone for that matter) must address the near-certainty it will be challenged by the Russians; it almost has to be, given the struggle for dominance in the region. Shooting down a Russian plane would enlarge the conflict in Syria while at the same time risking a retaliatory move that could take place anywhere in the world, perhaps even in cyberspace.

    The possible juice from a no-fly or safe zone just isn’t worth the squeeze of an enlarged conflict with nation-state level, global implications. President Barack Obama has rejected the idea of a no-fly/safe zone in Syria for years. Would President Clinton, or Trump, really roll the dice on possible direct military conflict with Russia when their predecessor did not?

    Boots on the Ground

    Another Syrian strategy option, sending in American ground forces, will also be on the table for the next president to weigh.

    Trump appears to have split with running mate Mike Pence over Syria; Pence says the United States should meet Russian “provocations” with strength, backing the use of military force to do so. Trump, when asked about that statement, claimed “He and I disagree.” Though the notion of a disagreement has been walked back, the nature of a Trump administration policy towards American forces deployed in Syria remains unclear.

    Despite Clinton’s assertions that her plan for Syria does not include boots on the ground, and Trump’s apparent interest in not introducing troops, the new president will inherit an evolving situation: the boots are not only already firmly on the ground, their numbers are growing. Since April President Barack Obama has overseen the largest expansion of ground forces in Syria since its civil war began, bringing the number of Special Forces deployed to about 1,500. A year ago the United States had only 50 soldiers in Syria.

    Experience suggests mission creep in both scale and headcount is likely. The current fight against Islamic State in Iraq has seen American ground forces grow to some 6,000 on regular deployment, with an additional, unknown, number of Marines on “temporary duty” and not counted against the total. The mission has also expanded, from advising to direct action, including artillery and helicopter gunship ground attacks.

    In Syria, the tactical picture is even tougher than in Iraq. The United States faces not only Islamic State, but also potentially troops from Russia and Syria, Iranian special forces, and/or militias professionally armed and trained by Russia, Syria, and Iran. The American side of the equation sweeps in an ad hoc collection of Syrian groups of questionable loyalty and radical ideology, Kurds who oppose Turks, Turks who oppose Kurds, and perhaps third party Arab fighters.

    Post Assad?

    Any new strategy for Syria will unfold on a complex game board.

    As long as Assad stays in power, even without Islamic State, the bloody civil war will continue. If Assad goes, who could replace him and not trigger a new round of civil war? Who will pay for Syria to rebuild at some point?

    Enlarging the picture, how will the Kurd-Turk struggle be managed now that the genie of Kurdish independence is out of the lamp? How will the next phase of the Sunni-Shi’ite relationship in Iraq affect Syria? How will growing Iranian influence in Iraq, a likely consequence of any defeat of Islamic State there, factor in? The Russians are now on the ground again in the Middle East. What effect will that have on the broader regional and global strategic balance?

    The task facing the next president is not just defeating Islamic State inside Syria, but doing so even as the local problems there have metastasized into broad issues with global consequences. President Clinton or President Trump may find their current proposed plans will run into the same vexing realities the Obama administration has struggled with for years. The candidates’ current proposed plans do not seem up to the task. The new administration will have to quickly devise strategies that have otherwise eluded America’s best strategic thinkers since the earliest days of the Syrian civil war.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • chuck said...


      Are any pipelines in plans for Syria, Turkey, or the areas involved in the problem? WDIW (What Does Israel Want?).

      10/25/16 10:50 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich bauer said...


      Let US get Syria-ous. The WarWitch has the medusa-touch when it comes to anything that involves war strategy. She has proven repeatedly to be as stupid as she pretends to be. Whatever policy she wants we would be wise to be against it. Let US all follow the Republican-the do nothing party strategy the past eight years and do nothing until the bitch leaves office or dies of whatever affiliction is going on in her pinhead. The system is rigged for our destruction. The only way to win at her war game is never to play.

      10/25/16 11:46 AM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      It would appear that one option would be…

      Make some type of peace with Russia…they are not going anywhere….
      Combine forces…. Kick the SHIT out of ISIS….

      Safe zones…seems like a nice place for a suicide bomber to visit…. With nice range markers for snipers….unless…. A wall is built there too for them to hide behind.

      Together figure out what the hell to do about assad.

      Or…… Maybe…. In this ‘crusade’…. Both the US and the Russians will get out asses kicked.


      10/25/16 12:14 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      “America’s best strategic thinkers” are in Vegas playing poker. The clowns we get our intelligence from our watching porn or scanning ebay as they have been paid not to think.

      10/25/16 12:59 PM | Comment Link

    • Bruce said...


      10/25/16 1:49 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      This post by PVB suggests that Obama’s reluctance to impose a no fly zone was actually a policy. In my opinion Obama doesn’t know what to do and never has. He has ONE POLICY! He serves the rich. He loves the American plutocracy. So we can be sure that whatever decisions are made regarding
      Syria they will allign with the interests of the American plutocracy. But, since the American plutocracy is clueless about wise foreign affairs we can be there will be no enlightened self interest at work- just swagger and poor decisions. Oh, Hillary and Trump are high up in the plutocracy so expect disaster.

      10/25/16 4:56 PM | Comment Link

    • jo6pac said...


      chuck said @ 1

      Yes, the pipe line would cut the Ukraine out of the picture for Europe and also crush israel sale of newly discovered offshore gas that really belong to Gaza.

      10/25/16 4:58 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Bruce- I still stand by my premise that Obama had no right to jump the line to get to the POTUS and is now obligated to push Hillary even knowing she is a criminal. Chalk it up to misguided allegiance to one’s party and deep guilt. Obama even looks guilty whenever he speaks.

      10/25/16 4:59 PM | Comment Link

    • jo6pac said...


      10/25/16 5:01 PM | Comment Link

    • Andrei said...


      The problem with these ‘safe zones’ is that there’s no guarantee that the so called ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels won’t use them as safe havens.

      10/25/16 5:06 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Now that Collin Powell will vote for Killery, will he advise ?! How is Joe Biden’s sons job in the Ukraine with gas co.?!

      10/25/16 5:48 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      John Poole…

      Here, Here..!!!!
      Two points!!!!! Maybe even three points!!!!!


      So…… You know about the Chevron farcing gas deal in the Ukraine?
      Which means you know about the Billion dollar “aid package ” delivered by Biden.
      Which means you know we almost ended up in wwIIII over a bunch more BS corruption?


      10/25/16 7:44 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...


      John Poole…
      Here, Here..!!!!
      Two points!!!!! Maybe even three points!!!!!

      So…… You know about the Chevron farcing gas deal in the Ukraine?
      Which means you know about the Billion dollar “aid package ” delivered by Biden.
      Which means you know we almost ended up in wwIIII over a bunch more BS corruption?


      10/25/16 7:45 PM | Comment Link

    • rich bauer said...


      Trump is right. It is rigged. Voting is just giving credibility to the whole corrupt process.

      10/25/16 8:56 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      I smell a nuclear solution from some party soon.

      10/25/16 9:06 PM | Comment Link

    • Mitch said...



      I was hoping I was wrong about that distinct odor.


      10/25/16 11:47 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Don’t worry. Victoria Nuland has cookies for all.

      10/26/16 6:29 AM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...


      “Chuck said: Don’t worry. Victoria Nuland has cookies for all.”

      Ugh, she will be sure to play an outsized role in an HRC admin. Gonna be interesting to see which neo-cons get jobs. Going to be the NY city sewer system after a big rainfaill; amazing what turns up

      10/26/16 9:38 AM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      WIKI Podecta #19 out. Happy BDay Killery.

      10/26/16 10:39 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      So! Will those who made disparaging comments about Shrillary in the recent Podesta email hacks still be invited to serve in her court? Neera Tandem heads CAP (nice work if you can get it) She must know Shrillary is a sociopath yet she continues to be a loyal servant. Sad to think that humans are so needy for notable financial rewards that they can serve the queen of chaos. This isn’t going to end well for any of us regular folk, But remember no one who will die under czarina Hillary in foreign lands has been drafted. They joined her monstrous crusade voluntarily. Their deaths have no meaning for someone with scruples and morals.

      10/26/16 2:23 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      Truth wins. Spread it. Leak it. Educate. Be Truth. Bonus… Enjoy

      10/26/16 6:48 PM | Comment Link

    • chuck said...


      A friend of twenty years, that I met while a staffer of B.S. campaign, told me he wrote in “The Clowns” for Pres.! Did not vote for any D or R.

      10/26/16 6:54 PM | Comment Link

    • The danger of war with Russia over Syria | Phil Ebersole's Blog said...


      […] Looking Ahead: Clinton’s Plans for Syria by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well. […]

      10/27/16 9:39 AM | Comment Link

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