US Navy F/A - 18 Super Hornet refueling midair after conducting airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq (Photo: Department of Defense)
US Navy F/A – 18 Super Hornet refueling midair after conducting airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq (Photo: Department of Defense)

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!


  1. Harry C. Blaney III October 19, 2014 / 10:46 PM

    Old Europe,

    Both “Old Europe” and “ New Europe” have seen their share of wars, catastrophes, and tragedy over the centuries and especially in the 20th century. This cycle was mitigate by the constructive action by the allies including America who decided not to turn our back on “Old Europe” and create a “New Europe” that was democratic, safe, free and prosperous. This include “soft power” or the Marshall Plan, World Bank, OECD, and in time, the EU which America supported. The “hard power” part had to do with another organization that provided an American guarantee of the security of Europe but also a commitment of each member to the security of each other member, namely NATO.

    We did the same in a different way for Japan and South Korea. In none of these efforts were there any effort to create an “American Empire” but an effort to make the world safer than we found it at the start of WW II for us all including the USA.

    The so-called “caliphate” or ISIS or Islamic State, chose your name its still one of the most destructive forces in the Middle East bringing the same terror and destruction Europe saw in WW II to this already region filled with upheavals

    In Kobane we see the threat to not only the lives of thousands of Kurds that deserve protection including under the UN mandate of the “responsibility to protect.” But on a larger scale a mandate of civilized nations and citizens not to see civilian people slaughted in large numbers while one has the ability to stop such acts. That is not the responsibility of just the US but of the entire international community. But we have not found a fully effective mechanism which can institutionalize such an multilateral effort.

    On some of your other points, I disagree with your view of the Russian actions in Ukraine. The were not only illegal they were an act of invasion and grabbing by force of Ukrainian land, and, an assault on an independent nation that could not and did no harm to Russia but sought a path towards a free and democratic Europe. No sin.

    Putin’s action resulted in the killing of many civilians and including some of his own troops, it also resulted in the mass killing of passengers on a civilian airline by Russian troops or controlled separatists using Russian supplied arms.

    On your other points of “nation building”….there are good results in some nation building and bad with others. We don’t get to choose just areas of peace and modern institutions with which to engage in our highly complex and conflict ridden world.

    I agree that we need to “build a much bigger coalition worldwide with more trustworthy and honest partners.” But that is a long-term task.

  2. good old europe October 15, 2014 / 10:21 AM

    So no more “Kobane will fall and is not so important” talk. Good. Maybe you grasp now that, besides humanitarian reasons geopolitic cynics may not really care about, Kobane has a great strategic value, symbolic value, information warfare value, and thats why Daesh fights so desperate for it – and still loses. If they lose this, they can start to say goodbye to their “prophecy” about the “caliphate”. Their attraction will disappear. This is not the images they wanted. They already are not in control of the images anymore. Do you not notice this?

    I have the impression some of the reluctance to help more has to do with the leftwing basic-democraty stance of PKK/YPG after they abandoned their terrible outdated stalinism. Thats a big mistake, plain stupid. Do not have your own ideology blind you. I know you prefer “conservative” Barzani and his Kurd tribe, or the guys you buildt up und control, as new leaders. Well we all know how well that worked out in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Come from your high horse, stop being paternalistic, let the progressive parts of society build up democracy from ground. Even that includes not as much conservatism and capitalism as you wish. Bite the sour apple, anything als is obviously a worse choice. A mistake you already repeated again and again in your “Nation building” hybris. Accept the left as a strong secular ally, and build a much bigger coalition worldwide with more trustworthy and honest partners. Yes, that means you will have to pull back on other ideological fronts and have people decide themselves, even if they are in for secular more collectivist ideas. Yes, that also probably means more honest cooperation with Russia, despite the ugly (on both parts) geopolitical game around Ukraine. The cold war is over, the fake new one is totally unnecessary. I’m just a normal, interested citizen, no no highpaid expert (and I would never want to be one, seroiously). But if I can see all this, I wonder why your highpaid experts can’t. Greetings from Old Europe.

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