By Harry C. Blaney III
The Washington Post Editorial in its October 8th edition titled, “A straitjacketed war,” got it largely wrong. They have a long history of advocating a military solution to far too many problems that require more than a knee-jerk, kinetic response. They have criticized President Obama because he “has ruled out such ground personnel despite requests from our military.” They have criticized his “restrictions” on commanders and said they are not compatible with the objectives. On the contrary, they are keeping with our objectives which are not to make this a unilateral fight and endanger our troops unnecessarily, but play a key role with others. This includes Iraqi troops and the new coalition members, specifically Arab nations, in battling ISIS. This is not an easy task.
The real problem is that sending in significant combat “boots on the ground” will put us into a much more dangerous “straitjacket.” The U.S. would bear a significant cost in blood and make what is likely to be a messy war appear to be one of America versus Islam. Obama sees this and has moved with urgency to amass a broad coalition of nations.
Walter Pincus, in his “A lesson before the fighting” (Washington Post, October 7, 2014), got it more right when he wrote “Americans must realize this is not an old-fashioned fight between forces of freedom and tyranny, good and evil. Obama appears to recognize that there are no good on-the-ground options in the Syria struggle for the United States. Staying in the air seems to be the right way to play our limited leadership role.”
Having said this, the immediate focus should be on the survival of the Kurdish town of Kobane (also spelled Kobani) which may still be under imminent threat of defeat, and with it a possible massacre of its population. We have done much with our air strikes to defend the town. Unfortunately, too few of our coalition partners have committed to act in Syria. This includes putting their own troops on the ground, including Turkey who is best positioned to act and save the besieged city. Yet they remain reluctant and difficult and their motives are mixed. For America alone, our caution is rightly due to the complex, conflicted, and muddy landscape for which our troops would be victims of a mix of vicious enemies wanting such a reaction from us. We do not want this to be just another “American war.”
The key is to engage the nations of the region in this conflict, which is much more theirs, not only to fight on the ground, but to assure their own security. The inevitable cry of putting our troops in harm’s way again creates an “American war” when this should be a broad international community struggle against Islamic lunatics and barbarous groups denounced by the majority of the Muslim world. We can best help in this effort by using our best leveraged diplomacy, military technology, logistics, aerial capability, and intelligence which is exactly what President Obama and his national security team has been doing.
The reality is that this “joint mission” can’t be fully accomplished without regional partners. The truth of the matter regarding Kobane is that Turkey can act and save the Kurdish town and its population. They are as of this writing hesitating and thus watching the likely slaughter of the Kurdish fighters trying desperately to save the population of the town. Some believe this is a cynical and duplicitous game to appease the barbarous ISIS and hurt the Kurds who Turkey has had a long standing conflict with. They seem content to see woman and children, who are innocent of any connection to Kurdish PKK terrorists, be slaughtered.
Acknowledging that Turkey faces, as we all do, a very complex and murky situation in the Middle East and in particular in Syria and Iraq, Turkey is seeking our immediate support in attacking Syria’s Assad, which they despise, but they are permitting, perhaps encouraging, the mass murder of the Kurds that they think are their enemies for seeking greater autonomy or independence. Yet they wish to remain in NATO and appease the West with their new law permitting attacks within Syria and beyond but doing nothing. They demand a “no-fly zone,” which although not a solution, is probably not a bad idea if Turkey and other Arab states enforce it and limit it to a defined “humanitarian area” and near the border to permit refugees to live in some measure of security. Turkey has also taken in many refugees who otherwise would have been killed and for this they should be given some credit, but they have prevented Turkish Kurds from helping their brother’s defend Kobane. What President Erdogan seems to discount is the cost to him and Turkey of sitting with his troops and tanks on the border overlooking the town as women and children are massacred by a group that he is still assisting. He has even denied American forces in Turkey from bombing Syria or supplying resources to the Kurds, but we are still in talks to get Turkey to provide greater support.
A key element of any international effort must be Turkey. The Turks have one of the largest and best trained armies in Europe and the Middle East, and have taken in Syrian refugees, but they are sadly blinded by their anti-Kurd history. The strange thing is their inaction to protect thousands of Kurds who face imminent death now is destroying their effort to draw Turkish Kurds into reconciliation. This blindness will exacerbate their long-term security if ISIS reigns supreme on their borders and the Kurds turn to vengeance for this unforgivable act.
America and its allies need to make it clear to Turkey how counterproductive and dangerous this game is and point out the advantages for stability and security for the entire region of a unified effort against ISIS and leave Assad for another day, as his regime is destined to fall one day. We should, as the Turks want, agree to some kind of “de facto” limited humanitarian “no-fly zone” along the border as desirable and feasible to protect refugees trying to escape the warzone. The entire international community needs to do more to help and protect these refugees.
We welcome your comments!