There is no goal to American intervention against ISIS. If one were to say it is the prevention of genocide or the disestablishment of a rogue state in the heart of the Middle East, that wouldn’t answer this critique. The US has no clear vision for the region and no permanent partner it sees as a viable guarantor of stability. The US goal is to slowly push back ISIS into Al-Raqqah and level it, then leave. That is no way of guaranteeing civility like this unless there is a wider expanse of stable territory in the wake of operations.

Kurdish-controlled territory in Iraq (yellow) and Syria (orange). (Image: cc0, public domain)

The most stable and most alignable of all the parties in Syria and Iraq are Kurdish, despite the political implications of admitting it. The best way forward is to build up the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq and the Rojava government in Syrian Kurdistan. Whether those two territories ever see it fit to unify is irrelevant: they are guarantors of peace to the territories they can control. They need only to be reinforced, armed and economically made independent of the Arab states that have dominated them since the end of the Ottoman Empire.

It might mean a devastating collapse in US-Iraqi relations were that strategy implemented in peacetime. But there is a possibility there will be no Iraq in the near future anyway. Iraq, and even Iran, is in no position to mount a military resistance to Kurdish independence when they need the Kurds and the US to push back against ISIS.

In Syria, the US is getting sucked into Turkish strategic apathy toward ISIS encroachment on Kurdish territory. Rojava is seen as another domino by the Turks, one that would lead to more active moves to independence by Turkish Kurds. Even if it does, that can’t be the United States’ ultimate concern if it wants to push back against ISIS more quickly and make as efficient an exit from the conflict as possible. For Turkey, whatever connection Rojava’s fighters have to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party makes them a terrorist entity. The US can’t be held to that line when it is so lenient with far more militant terrorist organizations like Hamas, nor has no other possible ally in the fight to protect Kurds and other minorities in northern Syria.

It doesn’t stop with protecting those areas. The Kurds in either country have to be given offensive capabilities to recapture cities from ISIS and guarantee security for residents of cities who can’t expect defense from sectarian Iraq. The goal here would be to arm both Kurdish territories to the teeth and capture as much Iraqi and Syrian territory as possible short of major cities like Baghdad or Aleppo.

As long as the US expects other rebels in Syria to fight off ISIS, it cannot expect the ultimate fall of Bashar al-Assad. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) can only be so successful without the reinforcement of an ally in Rojava. If the US is the only power fighting ISIS, Syria’s regime will have more resources to devote to fighting the FSA. An offensive-capable Syrian Kurdistan can enable more US resources to monitor Assad’s forces and give the FSA more room to operate.

Iraq is a lost cause as a unified federal country. The KRG is more capable of independence than any other separatist territory in the Middle East. It is a far more reliable ally, only hampered by US reluctance to stand down from its stated goal of a stabilized Iraq. After a century of Arab-Kurdish civil wars there, it is time to say enough is enough and to breathe life into Iraqi Kurdistan as an independent state.

Give these two Kurdistans their independence and capability to maintain it. They are hardly the threat to Turkey that ISIS’ recruitment and redeployment of Western volunteers is to North America & Europe.