Perry: We should consider a Syrian no-fly zone if we're serious about stopping Iranian nukes

I’m late to this but it’s still plenty relevant thanks to the State Department’s warning to Americans in Syria today to abandon ship if they haven’t already. That’s how grave the threat of civil war has become.

Some Perry fans thought I gave him a bad rap in claiming that he didn’t have a firm grasp on the issue of a no-fly zone over Syria in his Fox interview on Monday. Fair enough. Here was his answer last night when Blitzer asked him to follow up. I’m asking earnestly because I might be misunderstanding him: What does he mean?

BLITZER: Governor Perry, why would you support a no-fly zone over Syria?

PERRY: Obviously, that’s one of a multitude of — of sanctions and actions that I think work very well from the standpoint of being able to pressure that regime, overt, covert, economic sanctions.

I mean I think there are a number of ways. But when you put the no-fly zone above Syria, it obviously gives those dissidents and gives the military the opportunity to maybe disband, that want to get out of the situation that they’re in in Syria, as well.

So I think if we’re serious about Iran — and that’s what we’re really talking about here. We’re talking about Syria is a partner with Iran in exporting terrorism all across that part of the world and — and around the globe.

So if we’re serious about Iran, then we have to be serious about Syria, as well.

So I think a no-fly zone is an option of one of a multitude of options that we should be using. And we should put them in place if we’re serious about Iran not getting the nuclear weapon.

Jeff Emanuel of Red State flagged that exchange on Twitter because he didn’t understand it either, writing, “Certainly ‘no fly zone’ appears to neither mean nor do what he appears to think it means/does.” The first boldfaced part above is clear enough, I think: If you put a bunch of U.S. or NATO planes in the air over Syria and start targeting regime assets like we did in Libya, the goons who are killing protesters might panic and bug out and Assad would be overrun. There have been reports for months of Syrian troops being executed by superiors because they refused to fire on civilians, so if we can erode the chain of command via military pressure, it might create more space for would-be objectors in the ranks to turn on the regime. That’s fair enough — but what’s that bit at the end about using a NFZ over Syria as one of many weapons to prevent Iran from building a bomb? What’s one got to do with the other? You could, I guess, argue that seeing Assad toppled would so frighten the mullahs that they’d beg for mercy from the west and offer to suspend their nuke program as a goodwill gesture. That’d be an amazing result, though, given how close they are to nuclear breakout capability and how risky a show of weakness might be as an invitation to the Green Revolution to challenge the regime internally. The more likely reaction, I think, would be for them to accelerate their program and build a bomb ASAP as insurance against any western intervention. Or have I misunderstood him?

Blitzer gave Romney a chance to challenge Perry and he came up with an interesting answer about trying to peel Alawite support away from Assad, reasoning that a NFZ won’t help much when there isn’t much of an air campaign against Syrian rebels right now. Then Perry got to respond and came back with this:

PERRY: Yes, as I said, I said the no-fly zone is one of the options that we have. But I think you need to leave it on the table to make sure, because this is not just about Syria. This is about Iran, and those two, as a partnership and exporting terrorism around the world. And if we’re going to be serious about saving Israel, we better get serious about Syria and Iran, and we better get serious right now.

That’s a solid instinct, but does Israel even want Assad gone? Their general approach to the uprising, I thought, is a hard realist “devil you know” attitude in which the ruling regime is preferable simply because it’s been a more or less stable and docile neighbor. For all his rhetorical bluster, Assad hasn’t declared war and didn’t even retaliate when they bombed his reactor in 2007. Replacing him with a Sunni Islamist government at the very moment a similar government is coming to power in Egypt is by no means a major win for Israel; I’m not so sure it’s a major loss to Iran either given the chumminess between the mullahs and our Sunni Islamist “partners in peace” in Gaza. So again, how does the NFZ necessarily help?