Another humanitarian catastrophe may be just hours away at Kobani. The latter is the Syrian Kurdish town on the border with Turkey that is now surrounded by ISIS tanks and is being pounded day after day by ISIS heavy artillery. Already this lethal phalanx, which fuses 21st century American technology and equipment with 12th century religious fanaticism, has rolled through dozens of Kurdish villages and towns in the region around Kobani, sending 180,000 refugees fleeing for their lives across the border.
Self-evidently the lightly armed Kurdish militias desperately holding out in Kobani are fighting the right enemy — that is, the Islamic State. So why has Obama’s grand coalition not been able to relieve the siege? Why haven’t American bombers and cruise missiles, for instance, been able to destroy the American tanks and artillery which a terrifying band of butchers has brought to bear on several hundred thousand innocent Syrian Kurds who have made this enclave their home for more than a century? Why has not NATO ally Turkey, with a 600,000 man military, 3,500 tanks and 1,000 modern aircraft and helicopters, done anything meaningful to help the imperiled Kurds?
Let’s see. The US is making perfunctory air strikes. Yet with no boots on the ground in the context of close urban combat in a city of 50,000 — a major air onslaught would result in massive civilian casualties. Although Obama already has much blood on his hands, he is apparently not ready for a Gaza-on-the-Euphrates.
So then why doesn’t Turkey put some infantry and spotters on the ground — highly trained “boots” that are literally positioned a few kilometers away on its side of the border?
Well, Turkish President Erdogan just explained his government’s reluctance quite succinctly, as reported by Bloomberg on Saturday:
For us, ISIL and the (Kurdish) PKK are the same,” Erdogan said in televised remarks today in Istanbul.
And that’s literally true because from Turkey’s vantage point the Kobani showdown is a case of terrorist-on-terrorist. The Kurdish fighters in Kobani are linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK. The latter has waged a separatist campaign of armed insurrection and terror inside and around Turkey for 30-years and has long been considered Turkey’s top security threat. In fact, Turkey has received untold amounts of US aid, equipment and intelligence over the years to help suppress this uprising. That’s the reason that PKK is officially classified as a “terrorist” group by the U.S. and the government in Ankara.
And, no, the Syrian and Turkish Kurds so classified as terrorists are not some black sheep cousins of the “good guy” Kurds in Erbil and northeastern Iraq that CNN parades every night as America’s heroic ally on the ground. They are all part of the greater Kurdish nation of some 30 million who inhabit southeastern Turkey, northeastern Syria and Iraq and western Iran. Taken together, these Kurdish enclaves comprise the single largest ethnic population in the Middle East that does not have its own state, and which has been a source of irredentist conflict and instability for decades.
As a matter of fact, Erdogan has been pursuing a rapprochement with the Turkish Kurds for the better part of the last decade and had actually made progress in quelling the violence and initiating a political solution. Yet Washington’s two latest campaigns of “regime change” could not have been more inimical to a peaceful resolution of the region’s long-festering Kurdish problem. And, of course, the historic roots of that problem were served up by the West 100 years ago when its strip pants diplomats carved out borders that gave practically every major ethnic group their own nation, except the Kurds.
In that context, the Bush/neocon destruction of Saddam’s dictatorship in Iraq paved the way for fragmentation of the Sykes-Picot borders and the de facto partition of Iraq, including a rump Kurdish state in the northeast. Then Washington’s foolish delusion that it was spending $25 billion to train and equip an “Iraqi army” added fuel to the fire.
The so-called Iraqi army was never a national military arm of the Iraqi state because the latter had already failed owing to the onslaught of the US “liberation” and occupation. Instead, it was a glorified Shiite militia whose members had no interest in dying to protect or hold Sunni lands in the west and north. So the “Iraqi army’s” American arms, abandoned wholesale and then captured by ISIS, literally created the necessity for the Syrian Kurds to mobilize and arm themselves in self defense. Presently, another rump Kurdish state rose along much of Turkey’s 560-mile Syrian border.
The original trigger for that development had actually been Anderson Cooper’s War to liberate the Syrian people from the brutish but secular regime that ruled them in Damascus. It too set off forces of fragmentation and partition that have now come home to roost in Kobani.
Thus, after the Arab spring uprising in 2011, the US ambassador to Syria pulled the equivalent of what we now call a “Yats” or an organized campaign to overthrow the government to which he was accredited; and in short order the R2P ladies aid society in the White House (Susan Rice and Samantha Powers) made the State Department’s maneuvering to undermine Syria’s constitutionally elected government official policy, proclaiming that Bashar Assad “has to go”.
In no time, the Kurdish enclaves in Syria essentially declared their independence, and reached a modus vivendi with Damascus. Namely, they would keep Assad’s main enemy —the majority Sunni Arabs — out of the Kurdish enclaves on the central and eastern Syrian border with Turkey in return for being left alone and exempt from visitations by the Syrian air force.
Needless to say, that looked to the Turks like collaboration with Assad—whose removal from power ranks far higher on Ankara’s priority scale than making war on ISIS. On the other hand, Turkey’s proposal to staunch the flood of Kurdish and other Syrian refugees across its border by occupying a 20 mile “buffer zone” inside Syria is seen by the Kurds as a plot against them. As Bloomberg explains,
Kurds say the plan is aimed at crushing their nascent autonomous administration, carved out during Syria’s three-year civil war as Assad’s government lost control of their part of the country. Turkey says the Syrian Kurds are collaborating with Assad and should have been fighting him.
Meanwhile, the modern-day George Washington of the Kurdish peoples,Abdullah Ocalan, who has languished in a Turkish prison on an island outside Istanbul since 1999, warns that if Turkey does not come to the aid of Kobani his negotiations with Erdogan might end and the three decade civil war which had resulted in 40,000 Turkish deaths might resume. Yet as one expert in the region further explained to Bloomberg, coming to the aid of the Kurdish militia affiliated with the PKK would go beyond the pale for Ankara:
It’s “unthinkable” for Turkey to go beyond that and assist PKK-linked groups such as the Syrian Kurds, according to Nihat Ali Ozcan, an analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara.
“No Turkish politician can explain to the public why the government is aiding the PKK and its affiliated groups after fighting against it for 30 years,” he said by phone.
In short, the region’s logical bulwark against ISIS — the huge, modern, lethal Turkish military—is stymied by a tide of Kurdish irredentism that Washington’s “regime change” policy has elicited all around it and within Turkey’s own borders. In fact, it now has two rump Kurdistan’s on its borders and its huge internal Kurdish population bestirred and mobilized in a pan-Kurdish drama. Rather than progressing toward internal political settlement, the Kurdish political leadership in Ankara — which has supported Erdogan in return for lavish economic development funds in Kurdish areas — is now openly critical:
“The people of Kobani feel deserted and furious,” Faysal Sariyildiz, another pro-Kurdish legislator, said yesterday.
The current activities of the Turkish military on the border check-by-jowl with the ISIS militants laying siege to Kobani say it all. On the one hand, they are managing the flow of Syrian Kurdish refugees desperately fleeing across the border. At the same time, they are systematically attempting to stop the inflow of native Turkish Kurd fighters streaming toward Kobani to join the defense of their kinsmen. Ankara clearly does not want Turkish Kurds to become battle-trained in urban warfare. So far, however, they have apparently not fired even a single round of artillery at the ISIS-manned American tanks that are within a kilometer of an epic slaughter in Kobani.
Vice-President Biden was right for once. Washington has no real allies in the region because they all have another agenda. Turkey is focused on its near enemy in the Kurdish regions and its far enemy in Damascus, not the ISIS butchers who have laid claim to the Sunni lands of Euphrates valley in parts of what used to be Iraq and Syria. The Qataris want Assad gone and a new government — even one controlled by ISIS — which will grant them a pipeline concession through Syria in order to tap the giant European market for their immense natural gas reserves.
Likewise, the Saudi’s want to destroy the Assad regime because it is allied with their Shiite enemy across the Persian Gulf in Iran and because they fear their own abused Shiite populations which are concentrated in their oilfield regions. Consequently, they see the fight against ISIS as essentially a pretext for escalating their war against Damascus, and are not even interested in bombing the non-ISIS jihadi like the Nusra Front that they see as allies in the campaign against Assad.
At the end of the day, Obama’s air campaign amounts to nothing more than a glorified international air force training exercise. Pilots and air crews from the UK, Denmark, Belgium, France, Australia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan etc. will get to run a few live fire sorties at politically correct targets. So the Brits will bomb in Iraq but not Syria; the Saudi’s will bomb ISIS targets close to Assad-held territories, but not Nusra Front positions; and the Qataris will go along for the ride pretending to help, even as they preserve deniability that they ever dropped an actual bomb for that day down the road when they seek to make a pipeline deal with the Islamic State.
Never in recorded history has a fading imperial power conducted a more feckless, pointless, and strategically irrational war. The ISIS beheadings are surely barbaric, but they pose no threat to the security and safety of the American people that can’t be handled by enhanced domestic vigilance and police protection. After all, isn’t it evident after 20 years of the so-called war on terror that somewhere on the planet earth failed states and god-forsaken desert and mountain redoubts will always give rise to radical sects and violent gangs that cannot be exterminated with bombs and drones?
Indeed, the real lesson is that by inserting itself into tribal and sectarian conflicts in these pockets of anarchy Washington only succeeds in generating more of the same. That is exactly what the siege of Kobani is all about.
So maybe Joe Biden could explain this to the big thinkers in the White House. If the Turks are unwilling to stop an easily preventable mass slaughter by ISIS on their own doorstep what kind of fractured and riven coalition has Washington actually assembled? And how will this coalition of the disingenuous, the hypocritical and the politically opportunistic ever succeed in bringing peace and stability to the historic cauldron of tribal and religious conflict in Mesopotamia and the Levant that two decades of Washington’s wars and regime change interventions have only drastically intensified?
Reprinted with permission from David Stockman's Corner.