Though the US President will be the last to trumpet it, a revelation from the Edward Snowden National Security Agency dossier unveiled late last month might provide some context for the difficulties he faces in plotting a course of action to counter the threat of the Islamic State (IS) movement.

The revelation concerns the extent to which the US military has provided the Turkish Government with information on the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK), which Ankara considers to be a rebel terrorist group, over many years. The type of cooperation unveiled includes the US furnishing telephone recordings and location data (gathered by drone) on PKK activity, which in one case led to Turkish fighter jets mistakenly killing 34 unaffiliated smugglers crossing back into the country from Iraq.

While we are now used to these tales of high-level espionage and regime collusion being released to the public, there is a complicating factor in this case.

The PKK has gone on to become a key regional adversary of IS, now considered among the biggest threats to Middle East security and US foreign policy in general, and which again shocked the world recently with the beheading of another American journalist, Steven Sotloff.

President Obama could therefore face a tough choice between continuing to protect the long-established military partnership with Turkey and allowing the continued development of a potentially valuable ally in the fight against IS.

The case points to the difficulty Obama is encountering in responding to the incredibly complex and mutable allegiances that cross the region. It also goes some way to explaining his now infamous, and somewhat misrepresented, admission that the US did not have a strategy for tackling the threat of IS within Syria.

Turkey, after all, has long been a staunch US ally. If maintaining such hard fought friendships can jeopardise wider efforts in the region, how is Obama to consider the difficult options on the table for dealing with IS? Some may include working with the oppressive Syrian Government of Bashar al-Assad, or those of Iran and Russia, which are also generally defined as US adversaries. 

Given the fairly poor record American leaders have had in working with sub-national fighting forces in the past (countering the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan by supporting the Mujahedeen that ultimately led to the creation of al Qaeda springs to mind), even the more outwardly benign option of empowering the relatively moderate Free Syrian Army may ultimately have unforseen consequences.

If Obama is understandably somewhat confused, it will not at all dissuade those calling for him to do something, anything, to stem the tide of violence and instability, particularly if it continues to include regular beheadings of Americans or other Westerners. Unfortunately for the President, members of his own political party have increasingly joined the chorus calling for a more forceful response to the challenges, alongside the more rehearsed voices of Republicans.

Together they are asking for action not only in Syria and Iraq but also in Ukraine, Israel-Palestine and the myriad other places where conflict seems to be arising. Last week it was Somalia, where Obama could at least claim to have a strategy in place following the Pentagon's confirmation that US airstrikes had targeted the leadership of yet another regional terrorist organisation, al-Shabaab.

For the time being, the President does not appear to be budging on his overall foreign policy position. His response to the Sotloff killing has not departed too much from the 'lack of strategy' talk by promising that the US will 'destroy and degrade' the group but offering little in the way of a road-map for action, and even suggesting that total annihilation of IS was unachievable.

Would it be churlish to suggest Obama has acquired too much information through the National Security Agency, and understands too well the permutations of any action?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user faruk