The idea of safe zones is viable, in the sense that America could create them. America has plenty of money and a big army.
But the military will not like the idea of safe zones, neither will the State Department. The main reason for this is that creating safe zones effectively commits the United States to spending a lot of money, and a long term involvement in Syria.
The question is, how do you get out? What is your exit strategy? Once you’ve created a safe zone, you must train a police force and put nice people in charge of it. You must start distributing money and establish a just leadership. You’ve got a little nation within that border. How do you then give it back to Assad? You can’t. So you’re just stuck there, providing safety forever.
The question then is how you maintain it. Do you just keep soldiers on the ground, ensuring everybody behaves themselves? Or do you give it to a militia and designate a group to look after the people within the safety zone? There would be numerous problems. One can imagine that it would soon become a nation building project on a small scale.
Most likely, too, a safe zone would be hijacked by neighbouring states like Turkey, Israel or Jordan, which would like to see buffer zones created on their border so ISIS and Al Nusra and Al Qaeda don’t end up owning areas close to the border. They’d then use American firepower to create a buffer zone that they could control. It’d also be appropriated by local governments who want to extend their territory.
It’s essentially a nation building project on a small scale.
If Trump went through with establishing safe zones, he’d put it to the Jordanian King and the King would say, "okay you give me a billion dollars for this", and they’d turn it into a buffer zone for Jordan, where they would house refugees inside Syria and warehouse them, effectively. I guess Jordanian soldiers would protect it, and it would be a buffer against ISIS and penetration. But you would warehouse all the refugees that you wanted to get off Jordanian territory and it would become an internationally administered ghetto.
The entire project reeks of trouble, basically. It seems like a good idea that would be both humanitarian and easy to carry out, but when you start thinking about what can go wrong and the difficulty of implementing the zones and eventually getting out of the job of caring for the people included in them, it’s full of problems. It’s a bad idea, all the way around.