US President Barack Obama expressed skepticism on Monday that setting up a no-fly zone in Syria or other major US military action could save lives or tip the balance against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Speaking to PBS television, Obama said critics urging bold intervention failed to understand there was no simple solution and “if you set up a no-fly zone, that you may not be actually solving the problem.”
Obama’s deputies last week announced plans to arm the Syrian opposition after the administration concluded the al-Assad regime had resorted to using chemical weapons.
The US president has been accused by some lawmakers of dithering over Syria, but Obama warned of a litany of dangers associated with direct military action — repeating his determination not to be drawn into another ground war in the Middle East. Responding to calls to shut down Syria’s combat aircraft with US air power, Obama said “the fact of the matter is for example, 90 percent of the deaths that have taken place haven’t been because of air strikes by the Syrian Air Force.”
“Syrian Air Force isn’t particularly good. They can’t aim very well,” he said, adding that most of the action was taking place “on the ground.”
On a possible “humanitarian corridor” to safeguard civilians in areas controlled by the opposition, Obama said such a step would require bombing raids that could carry unintended consequences, including triggering more civilian deaths.
“Or if you set up a humanitarian corridor, are you in fact committed not only to stopping aircraft from going that corridor, but also missiles? And if so, does that mean that you then have to take out the armaments in Damascus and are you prepared then to bomb Damascus? And what happens if there’s civilian casualties?” he said in an interview recorded before he departed for a G8 summit in Northern Ireland.