The issue with Syria is whether or not things are spinning out of control more than they would otherwise. Kobani is a focal point (and justifiably so), Turkmens are also under assault and the advances of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) still threaten Baghdad.
But other elements also seem to have been unleashed.
There are many aspects to consider. The absence of the Arab League is absolutely one of these elements. As Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon are under the heavy burden of refugees, the least one would expect from the Arab League is to deliver financial assistance to these countries, in particular from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
Then you have the vertiginous flip-flopping in Turkey, which is causing turbulence in the coalition’s structure, objectives and efficiency, and frustration for Washington, D.C.
As a matter of fact, Ankara’s contradictory attitude points to a deepening leadership problem in Turkey, as was predicted when Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected president: Who would be in charge of politics? Who would the world’s key capitals address, as problems in the Middle East escalated?
This question proved to be legitimate. Although Turkey’s elected prime ministers have had absolute priority when White House wanted to discuss matters with Ankara, the pattern has changed since last August: US President Barack Obama chooses Erdoğan, instead of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, to discuss issues that have to do with the region, NATO and so on.
This adds to the apparent cacophony emanating from Ankara in the past weeks. We have seen that Erdoğan, for reasons known only to him, issues mixed signals regarding Turkey’s policies over ISIL, Kobani, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the US.
It would be naive to believe he does not know what he has been doing. Seen from a realpolitik perspective, and given his domestic ambitions and concerns to consolidate more power, Erdoğan transfers his double game to regional policy as well.
Kobani has therefore become a case to play for time, to see whether or not it would fall to ISIL. Since it was being helped by external forces and Kurds, the next step in delaying help from the Turkish side was to place Iraqi and Syrian groups against each other.
Erdoğan’s is certainly a risky, dangerous acrobatics, linked to appeasing other circles in Ankara, known for its chronic allergy for all things Kurdish.
Indeed, the recent reports coming from various newspapers like Cumhuriyet indicate that the top command feels as though it is being kept out of the loop in terms of decision making on the matters of Syria and ISIL.
There is more. It is clear that Davutoğlu and the government in general has been having difficulties in talking in unison with the President, since it has been impossible to stay in sync with his twists and turns. This is even more apparent in the rhetorical traffic jam in Ankara about the Kurdish peace process, now surely connected to Kobani.
The conflicting messages, exposing divisions, coming from the prime minister, ministers, advisors and Erdoğan himself have helped raise suspicions that the so-called peace process is becoming less and less serious, devoid of meaning.
“Who is really in charge in Ankara,” however, is only one of the questions, since problems with ISIL have expanded beyond Kobani now.
As was reported, while the US-led anti-ISIL coalition is conducting air strikes around Kobani, Bashar al-Assad’s regime seems to be intensifying its bombardments across the country, with over 200 air strikes over a 36-hour period in recent days.
“… Syrian army units backed by Shia Muslim fighters from Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iran are poised to cut the one remaining land route into Aleppo used by mainly Sunni rebels to resupply their forces, ferry in reinforcements, and evacuate their wounded. If the Assad regime severs the Castillo Road, which connects the rebels with the Syrian countryside and Turkey, it would set the stage for a full-scale siege of rebel-held districts in the city,” reported The Daily Beast.
There is no doubt that the sole focus on ISIL has emboldened Assad to escalate his campaign.
The latest reports from Beirut also tell of deadly clashes between the Lebanese army and ISIL-linked units near Tripoli.
Yes, Kobani should never fall, but the complexity of the situation makes the question about overall leadership more urgent: Who is in charge, and how?