Clinton on No-Fly Zone in 2013: ‘You’re Going to Kill a Lot of Syrians; In 2016: ‘Could Save Lives’

By Patrick Goodenough | October 20, 2016 | 4:14am EDT
Helicopter gunships of the Assad regime air force. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford warned last month that enforcing a no-fly zone across all of Syria ‘would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia.’ (Photo: Syrian Arab News Agency)

( – Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Wednesday night reiterated her support for a “no-fly zone” in Syria, saying that imposing one “could save lives and could hasten the end of the conflict.”

The remarks during the third presidential debate in Las Vegas are at odds with comments she made in a 2013 speech, when she is quoted as saying that imposing a no-fly zone would mean taking out air defense systems, including in populated areas, and that in doing so “you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians.”

Clinton acknowledged in the debate with Donald Trump that there were “really legitimate concerns” about the implications of enforcing such a zone, but suggested that the matter could be negotiated with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies.

After she said during a broad response to a question about the fight against ISIS that she would “continue to push for a no-fly zone and safe havens within Syria,” moderator Chris Wallace brought her back to the topic.

“Secretary Clinton, you have talked about, in the last debate and again today, that you would impose a no-fly zone to try to protect the people of Aleppo and stop the killing there,” he said.

Wallace noted that President Obama is opposed to the idea “because he fears it’s going to draw us closer and deeper into the conflict,” and that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, has warned that imposing a no-fly zone may lead to war with Syria and Russia.

“First of all, how do you respond to their concerns?” he asked. “Secondly, if you impose a no-fly zone and a Russian plane violates that, does President Clinton shoot that plane down?”

“I think a no-fly zone could save lives and could hasten the end of the conflict,” Clinton responded.

Although she was “well aware of the really legitimate concerns that you have expressed from both the president and the general,” the no-fly zone would not simply be imposed “on the first day, she said.

“This would take a lot of negotiation, and it would also take making it clear to the Russians and the Syrians that our purpose here was to provide safe zones on the ground,” she continued.

Pointing to the millions of Syrians displaced inside and outside the country as a result of the civil war, Clinton said, “I think we could strike a deal and make a it very clear to the Russians and the Syrians that this was something that we believe was in the best interests of the people on the ground in Syria.”

“It would help us with our fight against ISIS,” she added.

Trump did not address the issue of no-fly zones, but during the debate he did accuse Clinton – and Obama – of being “outsmarted” by Russian President Vladimir Putin in Syria. The administration had also been “outplayed” by Assad and by Iran, he said, adding, “Nobody can believe how stupid our leadership is.”

During a paid speech at a Goldman Sachs conference in June 2013, Clinton spoke candidly about the difficulties with imposing a no-fly zone in Syria. She noted that Russia had helped to bolster Syria’s “very sophisticated air defense systems.”

“To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defense, many of which are located in populated areas,” she said, according to excerpted transcript of the speech. “So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk – you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians.”

“So all of a sudden this intervention that people talk about so glibly becomes an American and NATO involvement where you take a lot of civilians.”

Excerpts of the speech, and other paid Wall Street speeches, appeared in an email sent to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and flagged as potentially problematic. It was among a batch of Podesta emails leaked by Wikileaks earlier this month. Clinton has refused to make the speech transcripts public.

During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in September, Dunford replied to questions about a no-fly zone by saying, “Right now, senator, for us to control all the airspace in Syria would require us to go to war against Syria and Russia. That’s a pretty fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make.”

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