Steve Heydemann’s article in the New York Times explores the range of policy options available to the current White House administration, arguing that a no fly zone is not the only choice. Being flexible would allow the administration to judiciously exercise power to achieve its diplomatic objectives. He also points out that, although the current administration is worried about doing anything that would tie the next president’s hands, doing nothing is also problematic because diplomatic options are shrinking.

“The White House and its supporters seem to believe that this kind of operation will provoke counterattacks from Russia or the Syrian government, which could cause the conflict to spiral. But there’s already clear evidence that this doesn’t have to be the case: In August, the Pentagon warned the Assad regime not to conduct airstrikes on Kurdish forces in areas where American troops were operating. Instead of escalating into a war, the regime complied, as did the Russians.

“This incident shows that careful, limited use of air power can not only effectively defend American forces but also protect Syrian civilians and address urgent humanitarian needs.

“These are not the only options available to the Obama administration. Earlier this year, the House Foreign Affairs Committee introduced a bipartisan bill, the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2016, to sanction the Assad regime and its supporters, including Russia. The administration should throw its weight behind the bill and help enact it into law before the end of the year, proving to Russia that there are real costs to supporting the rogue Syrian regime.”

Read the full article on the New York Times.

Steven Heydemann is a professor of Middle East studies at Smith College, a member of the Rafik Hariri Center’s advisory board, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy.