Kobani Cabal -- When It Comes to ISIS, All Politics Are 'Glocal'

Monday, October 6, 2014

The fate of the Syrian Kurdish border enclave of Kobani (known in Arabic as "Ayn al-Arab") appears to be sealed.  The Islamic State's (IS) "skull and bones" flag is flying over major parts of the besieged city.  If Kobani completely surrenders (and at this hour it appears likely from all press accounts that it is within hours of falling without reinforcements) its courageous, but lightly-armed Kurdish defenders will be finally overrun by ISIS and massacred after a month-long siege.  The fall of Kobani would represent the greatest military victory by ISIS since it overran Iraq's second largest city of Mosul and faced attacks from the US-led coalition.  It would also represent an enormous psychological and tactical defeat for the much vaunted coalition.

Kobani's conquest by IS will enable it to control the 62 miles between its Syrian capital at Raqqa and the strategic Turkish border.

From a pure military perspective, Kobani, with its 300,000 people, should not be on the precipice of falling into the hands of the IS pagans.  For weeks, its beleaguered Kurdish defenders have pleaded -- no, dropped to their hands and knees to beg -- Turkey and the United States-led coalition to come to their rescue after almost 160,000 of its citizens desperately fled the fighting.

So why hasn't Kobani's SOS been answered?  Why didn't the U.S., France, or other coalition members, including Arab states, airlift desperately needed military aid into Kobani?  Where were the American cruise missiles and fighter jets pounding at the ISIS heavy artillery and American manufactured  tanks perched out in the open on the outskirts of Kobani -- there for anyone with a naked eye to see?   Where was the NATO-trained Turkish military "boots on the ground" against ISIS perched now right on its front door -- literally no more than a couple of miles from Kobani's northern outskirts?

More distressingly, why has Turkey used its military to <em>prevent</em> Kobani's citizens from reaching the Turkish side of the border -- leaving tens of thousands caught in the open between a barbed wire border and approaching ISIS death squads?        

One need not be a military genius to wonder -- given the distressing situation facing Kobani -- whether the ineffective coalition response to Kobani's siege implies the U.S. is in cahoots with Ankara in an appalling conspiracy to send Kobani's desperate population into the waiting swords of ISIS.

It smacks of Stalin's war-time decision to keep his Soviet Army on the eastern outskirts of Warsaw during the Warsaw uprising knowing that the Germans would do his dirty work and finish off the dreaded pro-allied Polish resistance movement despite the urgent pleas from Poles for the Soviets to come to their rescue.  Kobani = Warsaw redux???

Just consider the following facts:  Kobani is Kurdish city.  The Turks consider Syria's Kurds to be fellow travelers of the outlawed PKK terrorist organization seeking an autonomous, if not independent state of Kurdistan.  Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu signaled late Thursday that Turkey might be prepared to act. "We wouldn't want Kobani to fall. We'll do whatever we can to prevent this from happening," Davutoglu told Turkish journalists. But apparently Turkish President Erdogan developed second thoughts.  On Turkish television two days ago, Erdogan opted for the Stalinist Warsaw Uprising solution to his Kurdish woes declaring that "...for us ISIL and the PKK are the same."  In other words: Let ISIS do our dirty work against Syria's Kurdish population -- let the terrorists fight the terrorists.  How Stalanist can you get?

We knew the situation in Syria was a hydra-headed monster, but evidently, when it comes to ISIS, all politics are "glocal," no matter how many innocent civilians are caught up in the score-settling department.  Would the Obama administration permit itself to be caught up in this cabal? Is anyone in Washington shocked that Erdogan would sacrifice Kobani and its hundreds of thousands of Kurdish refugees to engage in a sinister game of "pay back" with Kurds who may have absolutely nothing to do with the PKK?

Apparently not, even though Erdogan has opted to condemn all of Kobani's citizens to ISIS's swords and crucifixions -- PKK sympathizers or not.

I would give my left eye to get my hands on the cable traffic between the Pentagon and Turkey's Defense Ministry to see whether Washington protested Ankara's likely betrayal of Kobani's population or turned a blind eye, serving up just enough air strikes against ISIS to avoid appearing to be in Ankara's anti-Kurdish conspiracy back pocket.

If this is the price the coalition has to pay -- let alone what the Kurdish people will have to pay with their own lives -- to have Turkey (a NATO ally, no less) part of this coalition -- let's go back to the drawing board.  Does this coalition have to be built on such a flimsy deck of cards whereby we are so grateful just to have another coalition member we do so at the expense of our own principles and innocent lives?  That's not leadership.    

Tellingly, the otherwise surefooted Pentagon spokesman Admiral John Kirby has spent a lot of time at the podium bobbing and weaving about Kobani.  Consistently challenged by reporters to explain why the US was not doing as much, if not more to defeat ISIS on Kobani's outskirts, than it did to save the Iraqi Turkmen population in Amerli a few weeks ago, Kirby served up a lot of Pentagon jargon and double-diplo speak protesting that the U.S. is doing all it can; intelligence is inadequate, and we have to keep our focus on the big picture.  Hmmmm.  

Message to Admirable Kirby: the facts speak for themselves.  On the brink of surrender, ISIS forces on Kobani have barely been dented by Coalition airstrikes -- whose inadequate number and lack of ferocity lead to all sorts of inferences.

The plight of Kobani reminds us once again what we have been told so many times in recent weeks.  Every military expert has flatly stipulated that to defeat ISIS there has to be boots on the ground.  Air attacks alone will not roll back ISIS, retake territory, and save hundreds of thousands of civilian lives.

What this coalition desperately needs is "Coalition 2.0" -- a force composed of Jordanian, Saudi, Egyptian and Turkish forces, supplanted by other Arab and Muslim state military support from Kuwait,  Malaysia, Morocco, etc.  Why hasn't the Obama administration enlisted the expertise of highly respected former Generals Anthony Zinni or George Joulwan, or former Secretary of State Baker, all of whom have enormous credibility with Arab states -- far more than anyone in this Administration -- to take on the heavy lifting of finding the boots on the ground the U.S. won't place.  Baker did the impossible by forging a huge Arab military coalition against Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.  Kerry can't do it all.  He has too much on his plate already.  Certainly, Obama's national security staff can't do it -- there is not a soul on that staff that has long-term, deep Middle East experience that can positively jawbone potential Arab boot suppliers.

Defeating ISIS is a bipartisan cause.  This president needs and deserves help.  Before the congressional mid-terms, time to bring in seasoned, mature reinforcements to help President Obama do the job he pledged the American people he would do without U.S. boots on the ground: destroy and defeat ISIS.  

That just may get the boots on the ground that are not "Made in the U.S."
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