The imminent [as of Monday morning, October 6] disaster for the integrity of Ankara and Washington, as well as for the Kurdish people, at Kobani seems about the most morally clear-cut situation one can find in the anguished Mideast, and so, the great men who run the world…stand and watch.
If Washington is looking for “good guys” to defend, then the beleaguered Kurds are about the most obvious group around. If Washington is looking for a strategy in a region in which it has caused so much harm only to create chaos that is now blowing back in our faces, then treating Iraqi Kurds like good guys while allowing ISIS to massacre Syrian Kurds hardly constitutes a rational approach to stabilizing the region. If Washington wants to defend U.S. national security, empowering ISIS and teaching the world that Washington cannot figure out how to make a difference even when it attacks constitute a shamefully incompetent twin failure. If Washington cares about the consolidation of Turkish democracy, then watching the Turkish NATO army as it watches ISIS conquer and exterminate the Syrian Kurds is a course of action we…and all freedom-loving Turks will come to regret: democracy and freedom must be shared. Turks will not find freedom by facilitating the slaughter of the abused neighbors.
As for Erdogan and Davutoglu–in whom some have placed so much faith for a new, more civilized approach to politics in the Mideast—Kobani is their moment of truth. How they go down in history will be decided on this battle. A barbaric ISIS takeover of Kobani under the gun s of silent Turkish tanks will burn Turkey’s “good neighbor policy” to the ground, give ISIS enormous momentum, ensure Turkish-Kurdish hatred and violence for a generation, probably doom Turkish democracy, and very likely end up leading to a Turkish withdrawal from NATO and transformation into a state destabilized by Sunni radicalism. Kobani is a turning point. Ankara is heading down a slippery slope, and its callousness toward Syrian Kurds will generate an increasingly serious chain of interlocked disasters.
Now is not the time for arguing over which one more carelessly threw gasoline on the fires of Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Ankara and Washington need to think about the longterm future, and strategic calculus needs to start with protecting Kobani…today.
The situation is, of course, not that simple. Why, indeed, should Americans or Turks die for Kurds if Kurds will not even unite to defend themselves? Ankara has a point in calling on all Kurds to get on the same page:
… Saleh Muslim, co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union party (PYD), went to Ankara this weekend to hold meetings with Turkish security officials to discuss possible Turkish assistance in defending Kobani against Isis. Turkey’s government has vowed it will not sit idly by and let Kobani fall.
Turkish media reported that security officials in Ankara urged Muslim to convince the YPG, the armed wing of the PYD that is currently battling Isis in Kobani, to join the ranks of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and to “take an open stance against the Syrian regime” of Bashar al-Assad. [The Guardian 10/5/14.]
But now is also not the time for using the population of Kobani as hostage to a negotiating process between Turkey and various Kurdish factions. Such are not tactics designed to build an effective coalition.
One aspect of the long term is the momentum that Salafi extremists would gain across the region if the world were to permit them slowly and openly to crush a city packed with refugees and representing the last strongpoint of a minority on the brink of extermination. The fall of Kobani would put Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey itself directly on the front line, in addition to reinvigorating the radical Sunni threat to Baghdad.
Second, no one would miss the message that Erdogan had slammed the door in the face of regional Kurdish aspirations and, at least implicitly, cut a deal with Sunni extremism. Anti-Turkish radicalization of Turkish Kurds and the simultaneous radicalization of religiously inclined Turkish Sunnis could be expected, in turn leading to instability within Turkey, Turkish tension between secular and religious Turks, regime crackdowns, and the emergence of a hard-line Turkish regime – be it by radicalized Sunnis or secular militarists.
Third, seeing Ankara turn soft on ISIS and the threat to Assad instantly intensifying would only stiffen Tehran’s resolve to protect their Syrian interests with force, isolating and radicalizing Iran while driving a wedge between Iran and Turkey. Thus, the fading of moderate Sunni Islam would inhibit the rise of moderate Shi’i Islam, no doubt with rapid and dire consequences for both Syria and Lebanon.
Fourth, much to the satisfaction of Western as well as Israeli war parties and Islamic extremists, the monster of Christian-Islamic war would once again raise its ugly head. The world has already seen in this century how easy it is to fan the flames of global religious war, yet it took ISIS only weeks to bait a U.S. administration again into taking the noisy, self-proclaimed, public (yet utterly inept!) lead in yet another coalition of the “willing Western and repressive Sunni states” that serves above all as a bright red target for every unemployed extremist in sight.Not one of these probable consequences is hard to foresee; the combination of all would greatly aggravate the political situation in the Mideast. All of these predictable consequences in the balance, yet Ankara and Washington seem unable to defend a city right on the Turkish border when its civilians are threatened with slaughter. How much more morally compelling could a situation be?