As Jillian’s post notes, CNN reports that senior Obama administration officials have “downplayed the importance of” Kobani. According to what the officials told the network, the Syria/Turkey border town that is on the verge of falling to jihadists from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) “is not a major U.S. concern.” But the CNN report does not explain why this is the case, delving instead into Kobani’s strategic importance to the Islamic State, as well as the humanitarian catastrophe that would result from the inevitable terrorist atrocities.
A Wall Street Journal report, however, does shed light on the administration’s thinking: “The U.S. goal in Syria is to cripple the Islamic State’s ability to support its operations in Iraq. Based on that approach, the city isn’t strategically vital to the U.S. mission.”
I don’t think that’s going to fly.
In his big September 11 speech, President Obama vowed “to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.” He elaborated that the terrorist organization was “a threat” not only to “the people of Iraq” but also to “Syria, and the broader Middle East – including American citizens, personnel, and facilities.” Therefore, he promised to “conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes” that would reflect an American commitment to
hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.
With the president having made these sweeping proclamations, I don’t see how he can justify letting Kobani fall by rationalizing that the city is not essential to a suddenly much narrower U.S. mission to degrade the Islamic State’s operations in Iraq. As Jillian’s post makes clear, the conquest of Kobani would materially add to the vast safe haven the terrorists have already secured.
I admit to having some sympathy for the president here. Turning back the siege of Kobani should primarily be the responsibility of our purported NATO “ally” Turkey, and Obama seems to be trying to ratchet up the pressure on Erdogan’s Islamist regime to act. Erdogan, however, is playing his usual double games: Claiming he can’t act in the absence of a broader Syria strategy that targets the Assad regime . . . while simultaneously warming relations with Assad’s sponsors in Tehran; rhetorically condemning Sunni terrorism . . . while continuing to support the anti-Assad jihadists who collude with al-Qaeda. There is also the complication that the anti–Islamic State opposition on the ground in and around Kobani prominently includes the PKK, which both the U.S. and Turkey have designated as a terrorist organization.
All that said, though, Obama has once again made extravagant commitments while simultaneously imposing caveats (e.g., “No U.S. boots on the ground”) that make his commitments impossible to fulfill. What he most projects is the weakness and lack of seriousness that promote the very “violent extremism” he says he intends to “degrade and ultimately destroy.”