“I personally would be advocating now for a no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors to try to stop the carnage on the ground and from the air,” the Democratic presidential hopeful said in an interview.
That puts her in the same camp as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and fellow Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Bush has called a no-fly zone “a critical strategic step” to block Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime’s bombing of civilians and Iran from resupplying the Syrian government and Hezbollah fighters.
Kasich said Friday the United States should establish protected areas along Syria's border with Jordan and Turkey.
You enter that no-fly zone, you enter at your own peril," the Associated Press quotes Kasich as saying during a campaign appearance in New Hampshire. "No more red lines, no more looking the other way. If any hostile aircraft should enter that, there will be a great consequence to them."
In a news conference Friday, Obama said Clinton "is not half-baked in terms of her approach to these problems." But he said that "there's a difference between running for president and being president. And the decisions that are being made and the discussions that I'm having with the Joint Chiefs become much more specific and require, I think, a different kind of judgment."
Obama said that "if and when she's president, then she'll make those judgments," adding that "these are tough calls."
Whenever the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, is asked about Syria, he says that he doesn’t want the United States to get involved and should let Russia deal with the situation for now.
The protection of a no-fly zone, long requested by Syrian rebel groups fighting Assad, would “try to provide some way to take stock of what’s happening, to try to stem the flow of refugees,” Clinton said in the interview with NBC affiliate WHDH in Boston. The interview was broadcast late Thursday night.
The remarks go further than Clinton’s previous campaign statements about what the United States and other nations should do to address a conflict that began more than four years ago and has killed an estimated 220,000. Some 4 million people have fled their homes since the war began in 2011.
Her recommendation came a day after Russian aircraft began conducting airstrikes in areas of Syria controlled by anti-Assad rebels, including some backed by the United States. Russia’s stated target is the Islamic State militant movement, a common enemy of Assad, Russia and the United States that controls large amounts of territory in Syria.
In the portion of the interview released by the news station, Clinton did not elaborate on which countries should impose the no-fly zones or say precisely that she would commit U.S. forces to the task.
But discussion of no-fly zones when she was in office and afterward have presumed that the United States would have to lead or be a major player in the effort. The Pentagon has resisted the idea, saying effective enforcement to prevent Assad’s planes from flying would require large amounts of U.S. resources and could pull the U.S. military further into an unpredictable conflict. The White House approved limited airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria more than a year ago but has declined to go further.
“On the no-fly zone, our position on that hasn’t changed, which is at this point not something that we’re considering,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday.
“It raises a whole set of logistical questions about how exactly what would be enforced, what sort of resources would be used to actually protect that area. So that’s why at this point we’ve indicated that that’s not something that we’re considering right now.”
Syrian rebels and some international advocates have said that international air patrols in Syria's north could give civilians a refuge from Assad's bombing raids. Humanitarian corridors are a similar idea that would protect roads or other transit areas and allow civilians and relief supplies to move under air protection.
The Syrian conflict started as a rebellion inspired by Arab Spring protests elsewhere in the Middle East but had become a stalemated civil war by the time Clinton left office in early 2013. The emergence of the Islamic State largely occurred after she had left the State Department.
Clinton lost an intense policy battle within the administration over whether to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels three years ago. The White House-approved effort that came much later, after she had left office, is a “failure,” Clinton said last month. She has said it is impossible to know whether the effort might have worked had it begun earlier.
Syria is among the foreign affairs issues on which Clinton is gradually establishing a much more hands-on policy than the White House has adopted. She was considered one of President Obama’s more hawkish advisers when she was in office.
She has also recommended that the United States take in 65,000 Syrian refugees, more than six times the figure the White House has agreed to take in over the next year.
In the WHDH interview, Clinton also addressed comments from Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s pledge Thursday, "If I win, they're going back."
Trump’s remark about Syrian refugees was a reversal – he had earlier told Fox News the U.S. should increase the number of Syrian refugees it takes in.
“I don’t know what country he thinks he’s living in,” Clinton said. “We have a long and proud tradition of accepting refugees from conflict.”
Steven Mufson, Ed O'Keefe and Jenna Johnson contributed to this report.