Fiddling while Kobani burns

But even as Kurdish terrorists are occupied in Syria and Iraq, keeping their militancy out of Turkey, there are other fears for Erdogan’s government. Although Turkey secured the release of 46 Turkish diplomats that IS had been holding since June (through the release of IS fighters in Turkish custody), Ankara remains afraid of beheadings of Turkish citizens — and worse. Because of both the proximity of IS-controlled territory and the very fact that Islamic State fighters have used Turkish territory for everything from R & R and medical care to smuggling, the Turks have every reason to fear that if they start putting Turkish warheads on IS foreheads, Baghdadi will make blood run in the streets of Istanbul. The Turks understand that they live in a dangerous neighborhood and that, unlike for the United States or Europe, what they do in Syria can reverberate at home almost immediately.

The Turkish analysis of the situation is different from that of the United States and the Europeans. Ankara believes that IS emerged as a result of the Syrian civil war, which in turn is the result of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s intransigence and brutality. The Turks thus insist that getting rid of Assad is the only way to get rid of IS. This is both simplistic and self-serving: Given that Ankara has been vocal in its support for regime change in Syria, anything less would be a profound embarrassment to Erdogan and Davutoglu. Inasmuch as Erdogan does not believe that the United States is going to do in Assad and may even sometime down the road tacitly agree to some sort of deal that leaves the Syrian dictator in place, the Turks remain cool to taking part in the anti-IS coalition.