Report: Obama Asks Pentagon For Plan For Syria No-Fly Zone

Josh Rogin is out with an exclusive report that could indicate that President Obama is preparing to substantially increase the nation’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War:

The White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for a no-fly zone inside Syria that would be enforced by the U.S. and other countries such as France and Great Britain, two administration officials told The Daily Beast.

The request was made shortly before Secretary of State John Kerry toured the Middle East last week to try and finalize plans for an early June conference between the Syrian regime and rebel leaders in Geneva. The opposition, however, has yet to confirm its attendance and is demanding that the end of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s rule be a precondition for negotiations, a condition Assad is unlikely to accept.

President Obama’s dual-track strategy of continuing to pursue a political solution to the two-year-old uprising in Syria while also preparing for more direct U.S. military involvement includes authorizing the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the first time to plan for multilateral military actions inside Syria, the two officials said. They added that no decisions on actually using force have yet been made.

“The White House is still in contemplation mode but the planning is moving forward and it’s more advanced than it’s ever been,” one administration official told The Daily Beast. “All this effort to pressure the regime is part of the overall effort to find a political solution, but what happens if Geneva fails? It’s only prudent to plan for other options.”


Some Syria experts praised the White House’s decision to plan more options in Syria, but doubted that Obama would actually make the decision to intervene in the near term.

“No doubt, the United States and its like-minded allies and partners are fully capable, without the use of ground troops, of obviating the Assad regime’s degraded fixed and mobile air defenses and suppressing the regime’s use of airpower,” said Robert Zarate, policy director at the Foreign Policy Initiative, a Washington-based group that advocates for aggressive U.S. military action in support of human rights and democratic allies. ”But the question is whether that’s something President Obama actually has the will and resolve to do.”

Obviously, the fact that plans are being requested doesn’t mean that action is imminent or even that it will occur. Indeed, the U.S. military has planned for things that were very unlikely to happen many times in the past, including a plan for the invasion of Canada more than 100 years after the end of the War Of 1812. Additionally, it’s generally always good for the military to be prepared for the possibility of future action, and for the President to have some kind of realistic estimate of what the cost of the various decisions he might make would be. At the same time, though, this is the kind of stuff that just seems to be pushing us closer toward getting sucked into the sectarian mess that is the civil war in Syria, so it’s probably time to start becoming concerned that the President is going to commit us to something we shouldn’t really be a part of.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Moosebreath says:

    “the fact that plans are being requested doesn’t mean that action is imminent or even that it will occur.”

    Exactly. Indeed, the Obama Administration may deliberately leaked this to send a message (to Russia? Assad?), that it is moving forward with plans in order to get more leverage at the meeting between Assad and the opposition scheduled for next month.

  2. walt moffett says:

    Well that explains this article, Missile Delivery Prevents Foreign Meddling in Syria – Russia, on the official Ria Novosti website. Combined with the expiration of the EU arms embargo, McCain’s visit, the trap is set.

  3. stonetools says:

    The Pentagon has plans to invade Canada, too. Means nothing.

    I’m going with Moosebreath’s idea of a “controlled leak” to ratchet up pressure on Assad. The most likely next step for the Administration would be to join the EU and end its arms embargo to the rebels.

  4. Dazedandconfused says:

    A possible “bright side” is it gives Dempsey and Hagel a format to explain all the reasons why a no-fly is strategically ineffective….

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    I have a really bad feeling about this. I graduated from high school in 1964 and the Vietnam war shaped my politics and world view. I spent Memorial Day thinking about that war and the lessons from it we are unable to learn. The closing paragraphs in the post I did on Vietnam yesterday hinted at this:

    The Vietnam war shaped my political thinking. While over 58,000 of America’s finest died for nothing I had hoped that we had learned a lesson. But that was not to be the case. The Bush/Cheney cabal and the military industrial complex made all the same wrong assumptions and there are still some who want to involve us in unwinnable military adventures.

    I fear for the future. The Middle East is a powder keg about to explode. There are those who insist the US needs to show “leadership.” Leadership equals more of America’s finest dying for nothing and resources needed to fix the homeland will be squandered elsewhere.

  6. Scott says:

    We should stay out altogether. We cannot manage the various factions and unintented consequences will be everywhere. For instance, just Monday, there was a string of bombs in Iraq by Sunni-led factions against the Shiite-led government. There was a lot of handwringing about that. Well, we are tacitly supporting the Sunni-led rebels in Syria. Got to believe that there are Jihadist among them. So we support Sunnis in Syria against Shiites (Assad, Hezbollah, Iran) but support Shiites in Iraq (backed by Iran). I’m not sure where the Israelis and Palestinians are falling out but I would think that Israel would prefer a known quantity like Assad. The whole place is a mess and if we choose any side we will be on the losing side, somewhere.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I have it on good information that what he really asked for was a plan to rescue John McCain when he inevitably is held hostage.

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:


    The whole place is a mess and if we choose any side we will be on the losing side, somewhere.

    According to some in the GOP, we already are on the losing side.

  9. Adam Neira says:

    Josh Rogin is using an old journalistic trick to attract eyeballs. i.e. He is lying. In today’s media landscape spin, opinion, obfuscation and untruths line the shore like flotsam and jetsam. What did William Tecumseh Sherman have to say about journalists ?

    Syria is a vital piece of the Middle East jigsaw puzzle. It must be stabilized. Outside military intervention or a no fly zone are not good options. The proposed international peace conference has merit. Getting as many of the players to sit in a room together will not guarantee success but it will increase the chances of a shift in the dynamic. When a situation looks hopeless it is very important to try and develop a vision of a better future. The good people of Syria deserve a decent life.

    Prayers for Syria.

  10. Rob in CT says:

    I hope this plan never goes into action. It’s prudent to plan, even for things that are… less than ideal, shall we say. But man, I’d really prefer we stayed the hell out of this mess.

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Would we want to do that?