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Hillary Clinton floats a Syria no-fly zone. How real an option for US?

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Translation: Any decision is not for tomorrow. But just the mention of a possible no-fly zone suggests the West may be moving closer to the kind of military intervention it undertook in Libya last year on the side of rebels opposed to Muammar Qaddafi – and which Russia has bitterly criticized.

NATO’s intervention in Libya followed UN Security Council action that the West took as a green light. That is why some international security analysts say any US-backed military involvement in Syria at this point would more closely resemble Western intervention in the Balkans in the 1990’s, which followed UN paralysis on the conflict.

In 1999 the US and NATO undertook a bombing campaign in the Kosovo war – without UN authorization – that eventually turned the conflict in the rebels’ favor.

But to this day the UN and NATO have peacekeeping forces in Kosovo, regional experts note – a reminder, in case Clinton and other Western officials needed one, that military interventions are not always easy to end. (The Western intervention in Libya stretched on longer that NATO anticipated but nevertheless ended in a matter of months, some pro-intervention analysts point out.)

Clinton has a long list of factors to consider in “analyzing” the no-fly zone option, Brookings’s Mr. O’Hanlon says, and one of them is how opening the door to military intervention could lead to deeper involvement.

“You have to consider the slippery-slope phenomenon,” he says, “how this could evolve from a no-fly zone to a no-go zone” as the Libya intervention did. “If no-fly fails to stop Assad’s attacks,” O’Hanlon adds, “then there’s a lot of pressure to strike at Syrian tanks and artillery.”

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