That’s not one of those “This family’s dog got chased by a Komodo dragon—you won’t believe what happened next” clickbait headlines we sometimes throw your way. This is all too literal. With American and Russian warplanes operating at cross-purposes in Syria, the risk of a shooting match between two world powers is alarmingly high.
Now Marco Rubio wants to heighten the danger. Igor Bobic reports:
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would be willing to risk going to war with Russia in order to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria.
In a Monday interview with CNBC’s John Harwood, the presidential candidate argued that doing nothing would only embolden terror groups like the Islamic State and increase the number of refugees coming out of Syria.
“I am confident the Air Force can enforce that,” Rubio said of a hypothetical safe zone in Syria. “I believe the Russians would not test that. I don’t think it’s in the Russians’ interest to engage in an armed conflict with the United States.”
Asked what he would do if Russian forces decided to enter the safe zone anyway, Rubio responded, “Well, then you’re going to have a problem. But that would be no different than any other adversary.”
This is very different from Turkey shooting down Russian jets that violate its airspace, as was rumored to have happened over the weekend. A nation’s sovereign territory must remain inviolate, especially given that Turkey is a NATO power and Putin is one of the most anti-Western leaders in the world.
But what Rubio proposes is a deliberate provocation well outside Turkish borders that would increase the likelihood of war over a Syrian hurly-burly in which America has no natural role or ally. We must do diplomatic and humanitarian work in Syria, but it cannot come at the price of a greater conflict that could claim untold thousands of lives.
We’re already walking a perilous tightrope. The Pentagon may have shuttered its program to arm the Syrian rebels, but Obama has upped shipments of both small arms and TOW anti-tank missiles to rebels on the ground. “We get what we ask for in a very short time,” one commander crowed. The result has been what one rebel captain called a “tank massacre,” as anti-Assad forces claim to have destroyed 24 regime tanks and armored vehicles in one day. Videos have popped up on YouTube that show rebels firing American-made missiles at Russian-made armor.
We are, in other words, very close to an all-out proxy war with Russia. And unlike during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when the United States took great pains to cover its tracks as it worked with the Saudis and Pakistanis to arm the Mujahadeen, in Syria everyone knows our fingerprints are on those TOW missiles. (Those TOWs, by the way, have also ended up in the hands of ISIS.)
There are good reasons to fight a proxy war. One of them is to hand a defeat to a rampaging communist empire intent on world domination. But attacking a government whose destruction will empower al Qaeda and the Islamic State? Not so much.
Rubio’s proposal risks taking the proxy war and stripping out the word “proxy.” There’s no question the American people have become friendlier to his hawkish positions since the rise of the Islamic State. But are they really willing to prance along the knife’s edge of World War III over the latest round in the futile Sunni-Shia conflict? We’ll see.