The Kurds deserve our support
One force has fought back consistently, fervently, and successfully against ISIS: the Kurds. It was Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who broke through the ISIS siege at Sinjar and rescued those Yezidis who had fled the town but were encircled (the Yezidis speak the Kurdish language and are ethnically and culturally Kurdish). It was they who re-captured the Mosul dam from ISIS later in August. Again and again the Peshmerga have fought ISIS to a standstill or pushed them back.
This performance contrasts dramatically with that of the Iraqi army, expensively armed and trained by the US, which fled ignominiously during its first few confrontations with ISIS, leaving its American military hardware behind to be captured by the enemy. The difference is due to motivation. The Kurds, though they lack a recognized state, are a cohesive nation and their fighters are defending their own people against murderous fanatics; Iraq is not a real nation at all, just a failed state no one believes in or will fight for.
The focus of the battle against ISIS has now shifted to Kobani, a Kurdish-populated town on the Syrian side of the Syrian-Turkish border which ISIS is going all-out to capture. Once again, after many days of fierce fighting, the Kurds halted the fanatics' advance, though ISIS launched a new offensive yesterday whose outcome is still unclear.
As the Kurds themselves have repeatedly acknowledged, the US campaign of airstrikes against ISIS ordered by President Obama (and supported by British and French air power) has contributed greatly to these successes. If Obama had followed the policy of strict non-intervention that some bloggers favor, the tens of thousands of refugees from Sinjar might have been overwhelmed and slaughtered by ISIS before they could be rescued. Kobani might have been overrun by now and its 45,000 Kurdish inhabitants massacred. The Mosul dam might still be in ISIS hands, allowing the jihadists to threaten the whole upper Tigris with a devastating flood if they blew it up.
Remember, the US role has been mainly airstrikes. No military campaign is entirely without danger, but the risk to US personnel in that role is small. It's still the Peshmerga who are doing the hard and dangerous work of fighting ISIS face-to-face on the ground. All they ask from us is continued air support and more effective weapons.
Almost alone among the various forces fighting in the bewilderingly (to uninformed Westerners) complex Iraqi and Syrian civil wars, the Kurds have not been accused of atrocities. This may be because the Kurdish movement bases its identity on nationalism, while the others base theirs on religion. For example, the Yezidis, despite being non-Muslim, are accepted as Kurds and the Peshmerga have fought to defend them as they do other Kurdish communities. Religion in the Middle East is such a powerful force that it leads to utter dehumanization of the outsider whose beliefs are different, seeing those different beliefs as an outrage against God whose very existence is intolerable. Nationalism, at least, is able to accept the feelings of rival nationalists as being analogous to one's own.
The Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, quite poor by Western standards and with a population of five million, has taken in almost a million non-Kurdish refugees from ISIS (while wealthy Europe of 700 million has hysterics over a few thousand boat people crossing the Mediterranean).
Much of the American left's response to Obama's decision to intervene in the conflict has been profoundly disappointing -- knowing almost nothing about the situation on the ground, many bloggers and commentators fall back on a knee-jerk anti-interventionist position, oblivious to the vast cost in death and suffering that their illusory moral purity would inflict on people far away. Much of the American left is hopelessly self-absorbed, knowing and caring very little about events outside the borders of the US unless they can be used to score some point about American domestic politics -- an example of American narcissism. Obama is right and the anti-interventionists are wrong.
How long will this struggle last? Perhaps not much longer. As the above report from Kobani notes, ISIS has been bringing up men of its internal religious-police force to fight at the front line, suggesting that it is running low on real soldiers. Great numbers of ISIS fighters have been killed by the Peshmerga at Kobani. Perhaps ISIS is already nearing collapse.
What I really hope is that after ISIS is beaten, the US will accept that its claimed goal of re-establishing a unified Iraqi state with the borders it had under Saddam is absurd and impossible, and will support a recognized independent state for the Kurds of Iraq and Syria. They've fought hard for that state; they've earned it. Yes, the Turks would be furious, but they've lost the right to a say in the matter by the fact that they've done nothing to help in the fight against ISIS which the Peshmerga, the US, Britain, and France have been waging so close to Turkey's very borders.
participation of women in the Peshmerga -- a society whose women have fought alongside men on the battlefield will not easily push them back into a subordinate status in peacetime. Kurdistan has the potential to escape the quagmire of medieval religious hate and slaughter now engulfing Iraq and Syria, and build a modern nation-state. To support this would be in accord with our own history and values.