Have we lost the moment?

Increase the special forces, send 10,000 no make it 50,000 or is it 100,000 troops to rid the world of ISIS or is it ISIL. Carpet bomb ’em till the desert glows. Our leaders seem to begun a bidding contest over who can commit the most our resources to obliterating this Islamist group.  Others ask what exactly are our obligations in the Middle East and what action makes any sense. Over a year ago, we noted that our real obligations were limited to supporting our friends, the Israelis and the Kurds,  helping minorities such as the Christians and Yazidis threatened with genocide and keeping trade routes open. To accomplish these  we proposed a major Airbase or bases in Kurdistan from which could train, arm and protect those we were obligated to help. On the other hand, it isn’t our obligation to take in the refugees that the wider Muslim World has refused to do for decades. Arabs especially should’ve been pressured to take in their own. We have absolutely no obligation to aid the Baghdad government. They kicked us out and laid the groundwork for ISIL with their heavy boot on the Sunni.  The same mistreatment of the Kurds makes any rapprochement there a mirage.  No explanation of our actions is due Russia or China after their actions in Syria and the South China Sea. Kurdistan is the strategic high ground in the Middle East and is where we need to be.

Putting our troops on the ground in any numbers isn’t needed to meet these obligations. Indeed it would be counter productive. The Middle   Easr has had enough occupation by outsiders. Even if we destroyed ISIS, what would that accomplish? Nobody wants us to occupy the Area. Turning it over to the tender mercies of their former Shia rulers would only infuriate the Sunni and probably lead to support for other radicalized groups even more fanatical than ISIS with even more reason to hate us. Far better would be a force of local Sunnis liberating their own land. Unfortunately they have zero reason to trust us after we walked away leaving them crushed under the Baghdad Shia. Those who fought with us during the successful surge aren’t about to repeat under the present circumstances. Syrian Sunnis have only received unfulfilled promises from us. They might dislike ISIS, but they like the alternative even less.

Things might be different if the Sunnis saw a major permanent U S base in the area. In fact it would change everyone’s thinking. That’s the beauty of the strategic high ground, you threaten everyone without saying or doing anything. Just by being there all the players are affected. Turks, Iranians and everyone else would be worried about our intentions.  Would the Russians have intervened in Syria if that base was there?  Even now, if the base was established how uncomfortable would they be? Air power inferiority would surely lead to to Russian angst. ISIS would see things in  a new light. Rather than claiming to lead a fight against the modern West, ISIS would be faced with getting their butts kicked by rightly vengeful well armed Christians and Yazidis while losing their Sunni base tired of their rule. Talk about a loss of prestige. Rather than the U.S. wanting to negotiate with everyone, everyone would have reason to negotiate with us.That would be quite a change.

If this Kurdish option is so great why is it no one else talks about it? Actually people are finally moving in that direction. Just last week Maajid Nawaz writing in the Wall Street Journal (“How to beat the Islamic State” Review  12/19/15) on the worth of a Kurdish Strategy:

A key part of our counterinsurgency response should involve getting the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds off the sidelines. Yes, this will be uncomfortable for our allies in Turkey, and it will trouble Iraq’s rulers. But the Kurds have proven themselves over and over again to be the only effective fighting force on the ground against Islamic State.

If that means a Kurdish state, so be it. Outside of the continuing experiment in Tunisia in North Africa, a Kurdish state could become the only democratic, secular Muslim-majority state in the Middle East. It could become a political and religious beacon for the region. Our diplomacy until now has inexcusably neglected the possibilities this presents.

One of the major reasons for the Iraq Invasion was to mentor a secular modern state that would be that beacon for the rest of the Middle East. While that proved to be way off the mark, Kurdistan might actually fill that role. In any case unlike the Iraq venture, it would cost us relatively little to find out.  Further, we think the constant refrain from some military and political leaders of “arm the Kurds” is just a euphemism for just the program we have advocated. So we don’t feel the chance has been lost but time waits for no one. We need to wake up to our opportunity before it’s lost.

(This Policy Series started on 11/13/14 and continued on  1/31/15, 6/1/15 & 9/9/15. Related posts on 1/17/15 & 3/9/15)




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