- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 3, 2015

The debate over imposing a “no-fly zone” to counter Russian airstrikes inside Syria has produced divisions in the field of presidential candidates from both parties, with Donald Trump and Sen. Bernard Sanders arguing Sunday that it’s a bad idea, and Hillary Rodham Clinton siding with several Republicans in support of it.

Mr. Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, on Sunday backed President Obama’s argument that the U.S. should stand aside as Russian President Vladimir Putin wades deeper into the conflict in support of his ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“I think what I want to do is I want to sit back — and this does not sound like me very much — but I want to sit back, and I want to see what happens. You know, Russia got bogged down, when it was the Soviet Union, in Afghanistan,” Mr. Trump said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“Now they’re going into Syria. There are so many traps. There are so many problems. When I heard they were going in to fight ISIS, I said, ‘Great,’” he said, referring to the radical Islamist Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIL, that occupies large swaths of both Syria and Iraq.

Mr. Obama last week said that Russia was increasing its military presence in Syria out of “weakness” and that he would not allow the conflict to become a proxy war between the former Cold War rivals, declining to order U.S. air forces to impose a no-fly zone.

“A military solution alone, an attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population, is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire, and it won’t work, and they will be there for a while if they don’t take a different course,” Mr. Obama said at a White House press conference.

But critics say Mr. Obama’s passive approach is undercutting U.S. allies in the region and giving Mr. Putin new leverage and influence to shape a final settlement to the brutal 4-year-old Syrian civil war.

That Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump find themselves on the same page underscores how questions about a no-fly zone and how to respond to Mr. Putin have scrambled the foreign policy debate in both the Democratic and Republican primary battles.

Mr. Sanders, a Vermont independent and avowed socialist seeking the Democratic nomination, said establishing a no-fly zone over Syria would “make a very complex situation in Syria even worse.”

He did not name Mrs. Clinton when he staked out a position opposite her on Syria. But the strong statement reflected an increasing push by the Sanders campaign to draw sharp distinctions with Mrs. Clinton on a broader array of issues, including foreign policy.

“I support President Obama’s effort to combat the Islamic State in Syria while at the same time supporting those in Syria trying to overthrow the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad,” Mr. Sanders said in a statement Saturday. “I oppose, at this point, a unilateral American no-fly zone in Syria, which could get us more deeply involved in that horrible civil war and lead to a never-ending U.S. entanglement in that region.”

Mrs. Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and who served as secretary of state under Mr. Obama, broke with her former boss last week by backing a no-fly zone over Syria to counter Russian airstrikes in support of the Assad regime.

“I personally would be advocating now for a no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors to try to stop the carnage on the ground and from the air, to try to provide some way to take stock of what’s happening, to try to stem the flow of refugees,” Mrs. Clinton said to WHDH-TV in Boston after a campaign event.

Many analysts say Russia’s bombing campaign to date in Syria has not targeted Islamic State strongholds, but instead has hit areas held by more moderate domestic Syrian forces that have been battling the Assad regime.

The views expressed by Mrs. Clinton, who was always more hawkish than Mr. Obama, were shared by several Republicans.

Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he would “absolutely” create a no-fly zone over Syria.

“Donald [Trump] should be concerned that he’s agreeing with Barack Obama, because just when you think it can’t get worse, it does. And just when you think this foreign policy can’t cost more to the American people, it does,” Mr. Christie said in a separate appearance on the ABC show.

“There’s now nearly 300,000 dead in Syria because of Assad, and now Putin is going in and teaming with the Iranians to prop up Assad. Only Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton could mess up this foreign policy that badly. And anybody who agrees with allowing the Russians into the Middle East is just painfully naive,” he said.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, another GOP presidential contender, voiced support for a no-fly zone last week.

“A no-fly zone can be very, very effective if it’s enforced,” he said during a campaign stop in New Hampshire.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida advocated for a strong U.S. response in Syria, including a no-fly zone to protect a safe haven for refugees within the country. But he stopped short of endorsing a no-fly zone across Syria.

“No good can come from Russian involvement in Syria,” Mr. Rubio said last week at a campaign stop in Iowa. “We are barreling toward a second Cold War, and strong American leadership is the only force capable of ensuring peace and security once again.”

At the White House press conference, Mr. Obama said that there were a lot of “half-baked” ideas being offered for responding to the expanded Russian presence in Syria. He later added that those did not include Mrs. Clinton’s ideas.

“Hillary Clinton is not half-baked in terms of her approach to these problems,” said Mr. Obama. “But I also think there is a difference between running for president and being president.”

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