BOSTON — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Saturday that he opposes a unilateral American no-fly zone in Syria, offering a less hawkish stance on the war-torn region than Hillary Rodham Clinton, his chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, and a position more in line with President Obama.
“We must be very careful about not making a complex and dangerous situation in Syria even worse,” Sanders said in a statement to The Washington Post. “I support President Obama’s efforts to combat ISIS in Syria while at the same time supporting those in that country trying to remove the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad.”
But, Sanders added: “I oppose, at this point, a unilateral American no-fly zone in Syria, which could get us more deeply involved in that horrible civil war and lead to a never-ending U.S. entanglement in that region.”
In a television interview broadcast Thursday, Clinton advocated additional air power to protect civilians in the multi-front war, in which Syrian rebels and international advocates have said that air patrols in Syria’s north could give civilians a refuge from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s bombing raids.
“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 former secretary of state said in the interview broadcast late Thursday by NBC affiliate WHDH in Boston.
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.
Clinton’s position puts her in the same camp as some Republican contenders for the presidential nomination, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
In a news conference Friday, Obama said that 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.”
The White House approved limited airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria more than a year ago. The Obama administration has resisted going further, saying effective enforcement to prevent Assad’s planes from flying would require large amounts of U.S. resources and could pull the military further into an unpredictable conflict.
Sanders, who has a pair of rallies planned in Massachusetts on Saturday, has been speaking out in his recent campaign appearances about “the cost of war,” accusing Republicans of being too eager to insert the military into conflicts that will result in casualties and a range of other problems for returning U.S. soldiers.
Saturday’s events, planned in Springfield and Boston, come amid a fresh burst of momentum for Sanders, whose campaign announced this week that it had raised $26 million in the last fundraising quarter, nearly as much as Clinton. Recent polls from New Hampshire have showed Sanders leading Clinton, and polls from Iowa have showed a close contest.