No-fly zone over Syria could run $1 billion a month to do … nothing

posted at 9:21 am on July 23, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

A day ago, Senator John McCain told Newsmax that the US needs to impose a no-fly zone in Syria to “negate Bashar Assad’s power” and force the regime to the negotiating table. Hours later, after McCain and Carl Levin demanded answers from the Joint Chiefs on why the military has not recommended this option, Joint Chiefs chair Martin Dempsey responded that a no-fly zone would cost between $500 million and $1 billion a month — and would largely be a non-sequitur anyway:

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has told the Senate Armed Services Committee that establishing a no-fly zone over Syria would cost the U.S. $500 million to $1 billion a month and that it might not quell the conflict there because President Bashar Assad’s military primarily relies on artillery, not air power, for most of its offensives.

The no-fly zone scenario was one of several U.S. options that Army Gen. Martin Dempsey presented in a letter to Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the panel.

The letter, dated Friday and released Monday, was written at the senators’ request following a contentious committee hearing last week in which Levin and McCain were dissatisfied with Dempsey’s response to a question about whether he’d recommended U.S. intervention in Syria to President Barack Obama. Dempsey said such a decision was a civilian one, and that he had only discussed the military options with the president.

McCain vowed to block Dempsey’s nomination for a second term as joint chiefs chairman if he didn’t get sufficient answers. Neither McCain nor Levin commented Monday on Dempsey’s downbeat assessment of U.S. options, though they released a letter of their own in response, asking Dempsey for specifics about what options might change the military balance in Syria, where the civil war has killed more than 93,000 people on both sides.

Not only would this be ineffective, it would probably force the US to introduce ground troops at some point:

But he said such an effort would cost $500 million and $1 billion a month and would run the risk of having U.S. boots on the ground if American jets were shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft systems.

“Risks include the loss of U.S. aircraft, which would require us to insert personnel recovery forces,” Dempsey wrote. “It may also fail to reduce the violence or shift momentum because the regime relies overwhelmingly on surface fires – mortars, artillery and missiles.”

Syrian air defenses aren’t exactly state-of-the-art.  Despite having a good portion of their infrastructure destroyed in 1982, Syria still relies on older Soviet systems — which is not to say that they will be entirely ineffective if deployed against the US, either.  The US could reduce or eliminate the risk by attacking that infrastructure first, but it would take a significant ground and naval deployment that would cost billions itself.

In the end, though, that would be nibbling on the edges of the battle.  Assad hasn’t put his air force at risk in this conflict, either out of fear of a response from the West or a lack of capability.  If Assad sticks with artillery, then the only way to effectively reduce his power is with ground forces and air power at the same time, along with plenty of opposing artillery.  We could give that to the opposition, but they mainly consist of al-Qaeda affiliates and other extremist Islamist forces, no doubt helped by the breakout yesterday in Iraq:

Hundreds of extremists were feared to be on the run in Iraq on Monday after al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the country launched a major assault on the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, offering a fresh boost to the group’s resurgent fortunes in Iraq and in Syria.

Iraq’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that an unspecified number of prisoners had escaped from Abu Ghraib but none from a second facility that also came under assault. In Washington, U.S. officials closely monitoring the jailbreak said the number of escapees was thought to be 500 to 600, including a significant number of al-Qaeda operatives. …

But even if the prisoners are recaptured, the scale of the attacks on the heavily guarded facilities reinforced an impression among many Iraqis that their security forces are struggling to cope with a resurgent al-Qaeda since U.S. forces withdrew in 2011, taking with them much of the expertise and technology that had been used to hold extremists at bay.

Even if a no-fly zone was both effective and feasible, in whose service would it be used?  The only two options for the West in Syria are full-scale invasion and occupation to defeat the extremists and Assad at the same time, or staying out of it altogether.  Calling for a no-fly zone when the air force is at best a secondary issue shows just how out of touch with reality the interventionists are … as if we hadn’t had enough demonstrations of that already.


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For half that amount per month, I’m willing to insure a “no-pork zone” in Syria. It’ll do as much good, and it’s cheaper for the government.

Of course, I won’t mind the extra paycheck, either.

Wino on July 23, 2013 at 9:26 AM

I’ve come to despise McCain..just wish I could take my vote back from 2008 after everything I’m seeing.

celt on July 23, 2013 at 9:26 AM

The only two options for the West in Syria are full-scale invasion and occupation to defeat the extremists and Assad at the same time, or staying out of it altogether.

The second one.

Happy Nomad on July 23, 2013 at 9:30 AM

And when the first US pilot is shot down, and the jihadis (our allies) go all Daniel Pearl on live TV…what then?

Or when we kill a bunch of Russian civilians and soldiers…as they are supporting a nation with which we still recognize and maintain diplomatic relations…what then? Putin does not like having Americans slaughter Russians.

And, if, after a year or so…Assad wins…what then?

If the

jihadis

win?

God help us.

So, who are we really helping out here?

coldwarrior on July 23, 2013 at 9:32 AM

Questions McCain never asks before recommending going to war, 1. Who’s side are we on? 2. What benefit to America is there in going to war? and 3. What is the objective of this war. Whatever merit McCain earned during Vietnam, as far as I’m concerned, is long gone. He is far more of a traitor than a hero.

Flange on July 23, 2013 at 9:33 AM

Syrian air defenses aren’t exactly state-of-the-art. Despite having a good portion of their infrastructure destroyed in 1982, Syria still relies on older Soviet systems — which is not to say that they will be entirely ineffective if deployed against the US, either.

It was a couple of ancient SA-3s that got Serbia their shootdowns of USAF craft, including the only shootdown of the F-117.

Steve Eggleston on July 23, 2013 at 9:34 AM

I’ve come to despise McCain..just wish I could take my vote back from 2008 after everything I’m seeing.

celt on July 23, 2013 at 9:26 AM

I made myself a “Palin for Vice President” bumper sticker, and that’s the way I voted that year.

Wino on July 23, 2013 at 9:35 AM

Whatever merit McCain earned during Vietnam, as far as I’m concerned, is long gone. He is far more of a traitor than a hero.

Flange on July 23, 2013 at 9:33 AM

I wouldn’t go so far as calling McCain a traitor. Just a RINO who hasn’t met an aisle he isn’t willing to cross. It is time for him to retire.

Happy Nomad on July 23, 2013 at 9:36 AM

How much did it cost for us to “contain” Saddam for 10 years? Did it work? Would we still be doing it if Al Gore stole the election? Just askin’.

rhombus on July 23, 2013 at 9:36 AM

The only two options for the West in Syria are full-scale invasion and occupation to defeat the extremists and Assad at the same time, or staying out of it altogether.

The second one.

Happy Nomad on July 23, 2013 at 9:30 AM

I’ll go with door number three – the Ripley plan.

Steve Eggleston on July 23, 2013 at 9:37 AM

Desperately looking for a hero to save me from Obama but all I find are idiots and traitors.

MaiDee on July 23, 2013 at 9:39 AM

I wouldn’t go so far as calling McCain a traitor. Just a RINO who hasn’t met an aisle he isn’t willing to cross. It is time for him to retire.

Happy Nomad on July 23, 2013 at 9:36 AM

He is one of the biggest pushers of amnesty, a policy that is intentionally designed to destroy America. He is actively seeking the destruction of the country. That is treason.

Flange on July 23, 2013 at 9:40 AM

Whatever merit McCain earned during Vietnam…

Flange on July 23, 2013 at 9:33 AM

Seldom mentioned are the long term psychological affects of years of torture and isolated incarceration.

Cleombrotus on July 23, 2013 at 9:41 AM

Obama, McCain, and others eager to go all-in on a war with no clear objectives, no realistic outcome that serves US interests, and no exit strategy.

Sounds familiar.

DRayRaven on July 23, 2013 at 9:42 AM

It was a couple of ancient SA-3s that got Serbia their shootdowns of USAF craft, including the only shootdown of the F-117.

Steve Eggleston on July 23, 2013 at 9:34 AM

Yep, sometimes simple is better. Our modern planes are equipped to deal with modern threats and sometimes we forget there are tons of older shooty things still laying around.

In addition, I am willing to wager $5 that a whole bunch of the SAMS from Lybia managed to find their way into Syria. There are only about 5-6,000 of those things still missing thanks to Obama and Hillary.

Johnnyreb on July 23, 2013 at 9:44 AM

McCain will be remembered as O’s butt-boy.

Joe Mama on July 23, 2013 at 9:44 AM

The best solution, of course, is to give the rebels just enough weapons to keep up the resistance and Assad just enough weapons to fend off the rebels so that the struggle continues in perpetuity and BOTH sides pay us for it.

MaiDee on July 23, 2013 at 9:45 AM

OT: Good news story in the Washington Examiner this morning. SC GOP leader says Mini-McCain will face a Tea Party candidate in the primaries. Godspeed to whoever that might be.

Happy Nomad on July 23, 2013 at 9:53 AM

There are only about 5-6,000 of those things still missing thanks to Obama and Hillary.

Johnnyreb on July 23, 2013 at 9:44 AM

Here’s a bit of irony…

A lot of those shoulder fired things, fairly recently built, too, ended up in Syria because of Team Obama…and Ambassador Stevens was killed…basically blowback from this plan to arm the “rebels” in Syria out of Benghazi.

So, when an American aircraft falls from the sky…we can thank Obama, twice, getting us involved, and providing arms for the jihadis…and if the pilot is captured by our “allies” and given the Daniel Pearl treatment because, well, you know, our aircraft have been killing jihadis and their families all over the globe, then we can thank Obama yet again…

This Smart Power stuff?

Can they be any dumber?

And why are so many on the Right so eager to go to war?

Small penis syndrome?

coldwarrior on July 23, 2013 at 9:53 AM

I wouldn’t go so far as calling McCain a traitor. Just a RINO who hasn’t met an aisle he isn’t willing to cross. It is time for him to retire.

Happy Nomad on July 23, 2013 at 9:36 AM

Let’s not be harsh. He’s just a demented old coot who needs to go to the home.

Maybe if he’s really lucky they can get him a braincell transplant or possibly clue treatment.

dogsoldier on July 23, 2013 at 9:54 AM

$1 billion a month to do … nothing

Systematic. Destruction.

faraway on July 23, 2013 at 9:55 AM

I need to wait to hear from Meghan McCain before I can make a decision on this.

faraway on July 23, 2013 at 9:57 AM

Calling for a no-fly zone when the air force is at best a secondary issue shows just how out of touch with reality the interventionists are … as if we hadn’t had enough demonstrations of that already.

Well, at least they did ask, and listened to the response.

Seriously, though, there are cases where it makes sense for us to deploy troops to try to keep a situation from deteriorating and turning into a world war.

But Syria? I’m just not seeing it. If anything, we should be tacitly encouraging the rebels to attack while tipping off the government to where the attack is coming from.

There Goes the Neighborhood on July 23, 2013 at 9:58 AM

The best solution, of course, is to give the rebels just enough weapons to keep up the resistance and Assad just enough weapons to fend off the rebels so that the struggle continues in perpetuity and BOTH sides pay us for it.

MaiDee on July 23, 2013 at 9:45 AM

Yeah, about that. We armed Usama Bin Laden and the folks in Afghanistan to oppose the soviets. That did not turn out well. We have no friends there and for some reason, weapons seem to be abundant all over the middle east.

dogsoldier on July 23, 2013 at 9:58 AM

McCain has gone from a pebble in a shoe to una roca en el camino.

El maverick es senil.

Fallon on July 23, 2013 at 9:59 AM

Neither McCain nor Levin commented Monday on Dempsey’s downbeat assessment of U.S. options, though they released a letter of their own in response, asking Dempsey for specifics about what options might change the military balance in Syria, where the civil war has killed more than 93,000 people on both sides.

A handful of nukes would do the trick. Get rid of Assad and the AQ rebels in one swoop.

Bitter Clinger on July 23, 2013 at 10:00 AM

I made myself a “Palin for Vice President” bumper sticker, and that’s the way I voted that year.

Wino on July 23, 2013 at 9:35 AM

We had one of thsoe McCain/Palin window stickers where McCain’s name was over Palin’s. We just cut McCain’s name off and put Palin’s in the window.

Bitter Clinger on July 23, 2013 at 10:03 AM

Rucking Fetard.

Resist We Much on July 23, 2013 at 10:03 AM

I’ve come to despise McCain..just wish I could take my vote back from 2008 after everything I’m seeing.

celt on July 23, 2013 at 9:26 AM

From what I’ve seen from him I have also. It’s also made me glad I voted for Gary Johnson last November despite the vituperative comments towards me from Hot Arians. If I had 2008 to do over again I’d not have cast a vote for him. At least I voted for Alan Keyes in the NC primary in ’08 :)

levi on July 23, 2013 at 10:03 AM

Rucking Fetard.

Resist We Much on July 23, 2013 at 10:03 AM

LOL, Thread winner and I am so stealing it….

dogsoldier on July 23, 2013 at 10:05 AM

Assad-led Syria hates us now. If we attack it, it’ll hate us more. The resistance is Muslim and jihadi-led with some significant, if not majority, proportion Al Qaeda. They, too, hate us now and forever.

So we should get involved in this civil war where we lose treasure, possibly lives, and increase debt and gain nothing why again?

I’m at the stage where if McCain’s for it, I’m against it, nevermind where any other party stands.

AnonymousDrivel on July 23, 2013 at 10:06 AM

One of the attacks on McCain in 2008 was that he was a warmonger. It has turned out to be all too true. He sees a conflict somewhere in the world and automatically thinks the U.S. has to join in and send troops.

I really wonder how mentally stable the guy is. I hate Obama, but I can’t help thinking that McCain might have been even worse had he won.

AngusMc on July 23, 2013 at 10:08 AM

Too little, too late. Let ‘em kill each other.

GarandFan on July 23, 2013 at 10:10 AM

At least we would be doing something for a $Billion and not just lighting it on fire like Obama is currently doing by giving money to Democrats.

HopeHeFails on July 23, 2013 at 10:18 AM

McCain’s got a ‘fee-vah’, and it can only be cured by siding with Obama to inject ourselves into the middle of another civil war to help more Jihadists and Terrorists like Al Qaeda to take over yet another country!

Kennedy once said we would bear any burden, pay any price to stand with anyone who seeks democracy…Obama kinda went the other way: ‘We will use our military, bear any burden, pay any price, help any terrorist take over any nation and impose oppressive Sha’ria law on their people! (THAT is what McCain is doing the ‘facepalm’ about!)

easyt65 on July 23, 2013 at 10:19 AM

Just keep arming both sides. Best option available. Reagan had it right with Iraq and Iran. And the Contras.

Deano1952 on July 23, 2013 at 10:23 AM

For that $1B/month the US could buy up all the black market AK’s on the planet and air drop them into Syria… farmhouses, tribal encampments, small towns not on the hit parade… that has the benefit of taking action and giving everyone the means to sort out things on their own. Then the supposed ‘winner’ has to deal with a well-armed population.

Still, since there is no compelling reason to do much of anything to Syria why anyone would want to do anything there is beyond me.

The enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy and they are welcome to each other and deserve to be cheered on as they go at each other, and kibbitz about how horrible each of them is.

ajacksonian on July 23, 2013 at 10:31 AM

Syrian air defenses aren’t exactly state-of-the-art.

That’s funny! As if “air defense” means anything reasonable to Barky and his junta …

I think you forget that Barky had his personal military attacking SUVs with yahoos armed with machine guns on them in order to enforce his personal “no-fly zone” in Libya. Air defense is whatever the retarded Sukarno knock-off says it is. A guy with a pea shooter on the street … “threat to aircraft”.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on July 23, 2013 at 11:14 AM

Here’s a thought. Why don’t we just STAY THE HE}} OUT OF SYRIA ALTOGETHER!

We had a small window to get involved in a manner that would do some good for Democracy-minded informers, but that was right near the start of the civil war. We passed that remote chance up and now we can do no good for anyone by sticking our noses in. Sorry John and your Big Brass Neocon Band, but the world doesn’t need you and in fact is MUCH better off without you.

MJBrutus on July 23, 2013 at 11:34 AM

I’ll go with door number three – the Ripley plan.

Steve Eggleston on July 23, 2013 at 9:37 AM

And McCain would be riding that missile all the way down.

NOMOBO on July 23, 2013 at 12:17 PM

Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of. All jihadists.

Nasrallah and Iran are sending mujahedin there in droves.

Obama foreign policy at work.

nazo311 on July 23, 2013 at 12:21 PM

Is there no one who can shut McCain up?
I am so sick of his face and voice! He and Obama are when I use the mute button or change the channel.

Delsa on July 23, 2013 at 1:18 PM