Ayn al Arab, or in its Kurdish name Kobani, has become a symbol of the fight against ISIS, but why, really?
This is a dusty city on the Syrian-Turkish border, with Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen (the most unheard of minority in Syria -- well over a million), and the center of the self-declared Syrian Kurdish autonomous region. Maybe this is why the battle there became such a widely covered event, but if this is the case, it is a mistake.
Here is the background: IS goes after the town of around 50,000 people because if will be conquered, it will give them an uninterrupted contiguous territorial control of a large part of Northern Syria.
They do not want to be positioned on the border with Turkey because they want to invade Turkey; this is NOT going to happen, as they are Jihadists but still realists enough to know their limitations. Nor are the Turks REALLY afraid about an invasion. They are not, and they have placed some troops along their side of the border as a normal precaution. President Erdoghan talks about the situation as if he was a neutral media commentator, and not the modern-day Sultan ... or maybe he does act as the modern day Sultan, and in typical Ottoman style he is enjoying watching the "guys" kill each other, as it is not exactly a Turkish interest to see a REAL Kurdish autonomous region so close to millions of Kurds in Turkey, who want to see exactly that, if not more, happening in Turkey itself.
Another unnoticed element is the fact, that all the fighting is occurring in Syria, but alas, where is the Syrian Army? Where is the ''newly elected'' President Bashar Assad? The fighting is on his sovereign land, but he and his Alawite troops are nowhere to be found. Clearly, they are preoccupied with their own war of sectarian survival. Kurds? Not their ethnic brethren, nor their co-religionists.
Put together Erdoghan's role, also shown through the deal he did with IS (release my
hostages in Mosul, and I release yours) and the Bashar Assad's absence, and we get the realistic setting of it all.
The battle is over the future of a partitioned, fractured Syria. Erdoghan wants and needs to be sure that no viable, independent Kurdish state will emerge in Iraq and Syria; something which will be sure to arouse a Kurdish eruption in Turkey. Who can give him any such guarantee? Only President Obama, but he will not give it, and in its absence, Erdoghan is playing and will continue to play his double game; a member nation of NATO, but not one which helps the alliance when it really matters. Let us remember 2003, when George W. Bush was ready to oil the pockets of Erdoghan's government with many billions of US dollars in return for Turkish collaboration with the attack on Saddam, but the Turkish leader refused and one should credit him for consistency and principled positions. But the operational conclusion is not favorable to the American-led coalition, because Turkey wants a Kurdish solution, and the coalition either does not want it, or is incapable of delivering it, perhaps even unaware of the overall regional implications of the problem.
Be that as it my, the fact is that aerial attacks alone do not deliver the goods, the coalition is missing maybe its most important partner, and IS is advancing.
Patience is of the essence, and President Obama is right in emphasizing this point, but we are still left with the big question: what's next?
The answer is an actual partition of Iraq and Syria into their constituent ethnic/religious communities, with American/NATO supervision over the Kurdish territories, in order to allow Erdoghan to come to terms with HIS Turkish problem without fearing an uncontrollable Kurdish implosion in South East Anatolia. For that to happen, IS has to be defeated, but that should not be taken to be a Sunni defeat. IS could prosper in both Iraq and Syria, among other reasons, because the Baghdad government has functioned as a Sh'iite government, an extension of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and needless, in this regard, to mention Bashar Assad and his Alawite regime.
Can IS be separated from other Sunnis? Either the tribes in Iraq and Syria, or other
more settled Sunnis? It can be done, but it has to be exercised parallel to, in tandem with the military effort.