For this alone, Trump should burn. After many years of fighting nobly and tenaciously as America’s stalwart allies in Syria, expending nearly all of the blood, toil, tears and sweat that it took to wipe the ISIS Caliphate off the map, the Kurds will be abandoned to their fate, as Donald directs US forces to get out of the way of a Turkish military which has long considered them terrorists, and may well have plans to murder them wholesale.
Terrorists? You could look at it that way, especially if you’re one of the ones oppressing them, and don’t like the way a term like “freedom fighters” plays in places like the UN. The Kurds have indeed fought the Turks for independence, among others. Numbering about thirty-five million, spread across Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran, they’ve been hard done by for decades, and like the Jews before them, and for reasons almost as compelling, they figure their best bet is to get a country of their own. They’ve come close in Iraqi Kurdistan, where they were once gassed by Saddam Hussein, and clearly have designs on the area of Northwest Syria that they wrested from the jihadists with a heaping helping of American air power and artillery support. From where I sit they’ve earned it, and then some.
Mopping the floor with Daesh and its festering caliphate was a project run just the way the American policy community likes it, using their treasure and somebody else’s blood, and the Kurds gave it everything they had, imagining they knew a friend and ally in the United States. But for them, there’d still be a caliphate. In Iraq they held fast while their lavishly-equipped Iraqi counterparts popped the hatches and left their armoured Humvees and M1 tanks to the jihadists, running like frightened little girls. How it must have galled ISIS that the Peshmerga fighters who proved tougher than they were included women – women! – who enjoy living under a less than perfect but still more enlightened version of Islam than you’re going to find anywhere else in the Middle East, and weren’t keen to submit themselves to the bastards that yell God is Great while they rape, murder, enslave young girls, and toss LGBTQ victims off the roofs of apartment buildings. It looked grim there in Iraq at the outset, as government forces folded like the corrupt buffoons they mostly were, but there were those who knew that the ISIS ink blot would stop spreading as soon as it crept too close to Kirkuk. The Kurds would not be broken. The undisciplined rabble in black was about to learn a painful lesson.
In Syria, US forces – who must feel sick to their stomachs about now – were the beneficiaries of Kurdish grit, and in return provided a bulwark against the Turks, putting them in the strange position of standing between allies who were themselves mortal enemies. There were only about a thousand US forces on the ground, but that’s enough – the Turks weren’t about to try to run over them, for lots of good political and strategic reasons, not the least of which is that nobody tries that sort of thing and lives long to boast of it (ask the survivors of the Russian mercenary army that attempted it last year, if you can find any). The Kurds must have felt safe looking at all those US flag shoulder patches. Not any more. Donald has decided they can be left to flap in the breeze, a move so heartless and strategically misguided that even the likes of intolerable sycophant Lindsey Graham are appalled. Why this decision now, though? Over at the Times, Paul Krugman offered three plausible and not at all mutually exclusive possibilities:
There must be those among the now forsaken army muttering so what else is new. History is never kind to the dispossessed. The Allies screwed the Kurds after WW I, when a promise of an independent Kurdistan, free from the tyranny of the defeated Ottomans, was broken, in the manner of most such promises made in the wake of victory after 1918. The Americans screwed them during the Iran-Iraq war, when they backed Iraq’s Hussein and turned a blind eye to a genocide that killed anything up to 180,000 Kurdish civilians. Now they’re getting screwed again. Turkey’s Erdogan, a thug who as Krugman notes is very much Trump’s kind of guy, certainly wants no part of an independent Kurdish region on his border, a stance that actually makes sense so long as he’s determined to ignore the aspirations of his own Kurdish population. He’ll use his American-supplied weapons to rub out the enclave, and the sad, short-lived hopes of those who carved it out of war-torn Syria at the cost of so many of their best. Whether this turns into a full-blown genocide is another question, but it’s possible, especially when Donald appears not to give a damn, and neither, God knows, do Syria’s Assad or his Russian sponsors.
Just this once, please, God forfend.
Given their long, sorrowful history, the Kurds could have been forgiven a little more skepticism when it came to US pledges of support – actually, why anybody trusts the Americans, Trump or no Trump, is beyond me at this point. They swagger in all over the place, make lavish promises, recruit local allies, and then, invariably, after committing their superb military to win battle after battle in feats of arms unmatched in Western military history, decide that the thing is after all un-winnable and cut and run, making a mockery of the sacrifices of their own soldiers and leaving their former friends to hang. It’s been a pattern since Vietnam, and to anybody as jaded as I am on American foreign policy this latest betrayal should probably come as no surprise, yet this – this damnable perfidy – is so geopolitically stupid that it’s pretty near inconceivable, even if you’ve come to expect the immorality.
It’s thus hardly fair to accuse the Kurds of gullibility if they’re shocked today. They made a deal with a superpower that had every interest in seeing it through. They held up their end. They fought in Syria with the sort of skill, reliability and loyalty that Americans might plausibly expect only from the British, Canadians and Australians, and the sight of the Kurds left twisting in the wind will serve as a powerful object lesson to other potential allies for decades to come. For that reason alone, you simply don’t contemplate what Trump is now doing. It’s strategically mad. I’ll be stunned if anyone ever puts the smallest stock in American promises again during my lifetime, let alone lays everything on the line like the Kurds did. That’s fine by Donald. Outside of the Saudis, and apparently the Russians, Trump doesn’t think America needs allies, not its old ones, and not any new ones either.
We will all pay dearly for that folly down the road.
Meanwhile, as Erdogan’s armour starts to roll, those putting two and two together might recall this from Ivanka, a couple of years back:
Yeah. Here’s hoping that you burn too, sis.