The American airstrikes to support the PYD's militia have helped change not only the Syrian battlefield but also the Syrian political landscape. They have likely set up a longer-term competition between Syrian Arab opposition groups and the PYD. If the PYD prevails in that contest it will be more difficult to reestablish a strong, centralized Syrian state, with all that implies about ridding Syria of extremists like the Islamic State.
Turkey’s recent decision to permit American warplanes to use the Incirlik base to launch air attacks is a much needed shot in the arm for the Obama administration’s battle against ISIS. But alone it is unlikely to be the game changer the United States hopes for. Any strategy is doomed to failure if it ignores that ISIS is not merely killing people, but also killing the ideas that have served as the region’s defense mechanism against Islamic extremism for the past several decades.
Washington’s emphasis on military engagement in Iraq repeats a past mistake: focusing on a strategy defined by troop numbers, targets and what it would take for “us” to win. The headlines hide the real issue: whether Iraq's Shia, Kurds and Sunni Arabs are prepared to share power in a united Iraq, even a decentralized one.