The Corner

National Security & Defense

Report: U.S. Concedes Air Superiority Over Syria to Russia

This report on a close encounter between American and Russian jets, from CNN’s Barbara Starr, is disturbing on a number of grounds — not least that we’ve apparently conceded air superiority over Syria to Russia:

Here’s the key language:

U.S. officials tell CNN that American pilots are under new, strict rules. If Russian aircraft come within the 20 mile limit, for their own safety the Americans must move away. The U.S. doesn’t think the Russians will shoot them down, but commanders don’t trust Russia not to make a mistake.

In plain English that means that Russia not only flies where it wants, it can dictate the American presence over Syria. That’s the essence of air superiority. Then there’s this:

The incident happened after . . . the first meeting between the two sides to discuss air safety. The Russians secretly videotaped it all, and posted it on YouTube. U.S. commanders say they were shocked.

Why are we shocked by anything the Russians do? But lest we think that secret videotapes and aggressive close encounters are nothing more than juvenile and dangerous stunts, remember that especially in the Middle East strength matters. Russia is steadily building a case that they are the “strong horse” and that wavering tribes and nations cannot trust the United States. Bit by bit we are throwing away the reputation for strength and power we established in the days after 9/11 and re-established in the Surge. America recedes. Russia and Iran assert themselves. Is that the right formula for national security and international stability?

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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