Safe Zones Are a Needed Option
Given the horror of Syria, Safe Zones guaranteed by the U.S. and our European allies are indeed a good option. Presumably, we seek a stable and decent government in Syria, one that will protect rather than kill its citizens. The millions that have fled Syria are seeking safety and a normal life. The question becomes who will bring a better government to Syria. The answer we know lays in the people the government attacks and drives from the country. That is the base of real change. And if those people move to Europe and the U.S., it is not going to happen.
Some worry about conditions in any Safe Zones that are created. Camps run by the U.S. and Europeans can be protected and provisioned. The fact that camps elsewhere or run by others have been disasters does not mean that the same will happen if we are in charge. Yes, camps can be places where radicalization occurs. But so can be camps in Europe or homes in America. The Boston bombers were resettled refugees living in Cambridge Massachusetts and receiving welfare benefits and free schooling.
If the camps can be recruiting depots for radical Islam, they can be recruiting depots for the free Syrian forces we have so long sought. Young men fleeing to Sweden and Germany are the soldiers we cannot find to oppose the radicals and the Syrian regime.
And yes, the Russians and the Syrian regime will be tempted to attack the camps. It should be noted that they have not gone after the U.S. and allied planes that attack Syria every day. Nor have they seriously challenged the Special Operations forces that work within Syria. Taking on the U.S. in its role as protector of declared Safe Zones would be a very big step for the Syrian regime and its Russian protectors.
We have made many mistakes in dealing with the Syrian crisis, not the least of which was the Obama administration declaring a red line and then saying never mind. Setting up Safe Zones would be another red line. It is likely though that if the Trump administration were to take such a decision, it would back it up with force. But a deeper goal is to get Syrians to drive their own regime change. Young Syrians living in Bonn or Boston will not get the job done. And neither will, as we have learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, American soldiers. Safe Zones keeps those who have to take responsibility on the same continent as the problem.