Beating Kurds and Away

A couple of days ago Turkey decided to send its army south over the border into Syria and start massacring Kurds. Apparently this was Trump’s fault, as he’d withdrawn the couple of hundred US special forces who’d been helping the Kurds fight ISIS, and many people saw this as giving a green light to Erdogan. I’m going to take the lazy blogger’s option of simply repeating what I said last time this happened back in December:

I have a lot of sympathy for the Kurds. They seem less insane than anyone else fighting in Syria, more organised than anyone trying to manage territory in Iraq, and they are well-disposed towards America and their allies. They’ve been screwed over by the major powers on several occasions, suffered terribly at the hands of Saddam Hussein and ISIS, and been oppressed by the Turks. I would like to see their lot improved, and I will be deeply unhappy if the Turkish army move into Syria and start massacring them. If somehow they find themselves in possession of advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry with which they can inflict heavy losses on their enemies, I’d not be too upset.

However, let’s get realistic here. The US was never in Syria on behalf of the Kurds. US forces on the ground may have formed informal alliances with Kurdish groups, but there was never a US policy of protecting Kurds in Syria, at least that I’m aware of. To begin with, what do people mean when they say America should not abandon “the Kurds”? Do they mean the Kurds in Syria fighting Assad and ISIS? The Kurds in Iraq, who run a peaceful, semi-autonomous region subordinate (in theory) to the government in Baghdad? The Kurds in Turkey? And with whom should the alliance be made? The PKK? The Peshmerga commanders?

I asked a few people on Twitter who the Kurdish leaders were, what were their names. Nobody knew. When people talk of Palestinians we know they fall under the leadership, however flawed, of the PA and Hamas. We know the names of the leaders and what their policies are, and these people regularly attend meetings with the large powers and mediators to discuss their aims. But who represents “the Kurds”? What do they want? If Trump is “betraying an ally” this suggests an alliance was formed and promises given. Okay, but when, and by whom, and with what authority? Did any Kurdish leader meet Trump or a member of his administration? Did they meet any of Obama’s? Nobody who is screaming “betrayal” can answer any of these questions: they want war to continue indefinitely in support of an alliance they can’t describe on behalf of people they know nothing about. If this is what passes for political wisdom in the US these days, it’s little wonder they’ve been neck-deep in unwinnable wars since I left university. Fighting a war used to be a serious undertaking, now it’s something advocated on a whim to spite one’s domestic political opponents.

If Americans want to fight a war on behalf of the Kurds, they need to first come up with a clear strategy. What are the objectives, and over what timelines? And on behalf of which Kurds are they fighting? If they attempted to draw up such a plan, they would see why they need to give the matter a wide berth. The Kurds are not some homogeneous bloc, they are fractured along several lines and were they somehow to get their own state it would likely be completely dysfunctional as the various groups squabble among each other. There’s also the small matter that the most capable Kurds are invariably socialist; I get the impression a lot of Americans don’t know that. If America were to support the Kurds in any meaningful sense it would entail severely distabilising the national government in Iraq, as well as taking on Turkey in a big way. I’m not saying these are necessarily bad things – I’d like to see Turkey booted from NATO and Erdogan put in his place – but they need to be part of an overall strategy which the political classes in Washington simply lack the competence to put together, let alone pull off. Hell, they can’t even agree to protect their own borders.

Most of the meltdown we’re seeing from the American political classes is yet another example of Trump doing X and therefore they must oppose it. The rest is from people who think American soldiers should be sent to fight and die in pointless, century-old sectarian feuds in the Middle East because otherwise the country’s reputation will be tarnished – as if it’s currently held in high regard.

The most moronic take is that Turkey’s assault on the Kurds plays into Putin’s hands, as if Russia gives a damn about either of them. If anything Russia would prefer Turkey stays out of Syria, given they’re firm backers of the Assad who, presumably, would like to run things without interference from his neighbours. We’re at the point where if Trump exploded a thermonuclear device over Moscow during rush hour, half of America would say he was acting on Putin’s orders.

To my knowledge, Congress never approved sending US troops into Syria so they have no business being there in the first place. If the Europeans carping from the sidelines feel so strongly about the Kurds, they are free to send their own soldiers to protect them, assuming they have any, their guns work, and they can get there. And all those ISIS prisoners in Kurdish jails? Well, why were they still breathing?

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31 thoughts on “Beating Kurds and Away

  1. How do you do it?

    You are reading my mind and developing my semi-formed feelingz into a hot post.

    This is like all my socialist friends here (I am a tolerant type). Anti-free trade till Trump got going. Anti-war till Trump pulls out.

    Age on my part and something in the water where you live, cos you’re holding down a full-time job which I am not

  2. There are the knee-jerk ‘Orange Man Bad’ types, as well as those who want America to continue taking on Israel’s regional rivals. Any move by Trump which is seen as withdrawal from the region will upset the latter group (a group which is consistent if nothing else) as ultimately they have their eyes on Iran.

  3. To be fair to the anti-Trump outragemongers, I gather that the US had earlier convinced the Kurds in Syria to dismantle most of their fortifications on the understanding that the US would be deterring any attack from Turkey. Leaving the Kurds to their fate may be defensible, for the reasons you lay out; convincing the Kurds to take away their defences and then leaving them, on the other hand…

  4. I gather that the US had earlier convinced the Kurds in Syria to dismantle most of their fortifications on the understanding that the US would be deterring any attack from Turkey.

    I heard this, and suspect it’s BS. For a start, why would the US care whether the Kurds had fortifications?

  5. When it comes to the middle east, I find it hard to really care as I don’t know what the reality of the situation is to be able to have an opinion.

    Everyone lies, it’s clear there are always various disinformation campaigns in-place to push various agendas.

    The more emotionally charged the journalism around middle east conflicts (remember Jamal Khashoggi?), the more likely it’s complete crap designed to get the plebs into a moral panic.

    The only rule I go by these days, does it piss off the right people.

    The neo-cons and dems aren’t happy with this, so it was probably the right decision that’s been made.

  6. Funnily enough, it is a NATO member who does the attacking but Turkey is not kicked out of the alliance forthwith and orange man bad? You have to give credit to the anti-trumpers, their brains have been capable of holding many conflicting and contradictory thoughts for many years now, and still haven’t exploded.

  7. The true measure of Trumps brilliance is that he now has The Guardian writing editorials extolling the virtues of US intervention in the Middle East. He’s turned them into neocons!

    The interesting thing will be what the comments are like when Trump does exactly what he said he would, and start imposing some quite sever sanctions on Turkey.

    To me, it also highlights just how empty and powerless the EU is outside it’s boarders They issued a statement of displeasure. And that will be it.

  8. monoi

    “their brains have been capable of holding many conflicting and contradictory thoughts for many years now, and still haven’t exploded.”

    They have exploded, it’s just that the mess is on the inside!

  9. The original Mr. X
    “I gather that the US had earlier convinced the Kurds in Syria to dismantle most of their fortifications on the understanding that the US would be deterring any attack from Turkey.”

    Sounds like complete BS from someone who is still fighting WW1.

    What fortifications would they have? Some earthworks? Barbed wire? Bunkers? Trench lines? How effective would any of this be given the firepower advantage Turkey has?

    Why would the US require this dismantled? What was the advantage gained?

  10. The US has pulled the football away from the Kurds so many times, the latter really ought to have planned for it and negotiated a settlement with Assad back when they could have done so from a position of strength.
    Further, there’s always a perfectly good reason why the US, and its allies like your country and mine, shouldn’t pull out of any of its foreign entanglements. But the inevitable motive for doing so will soon arrive anyway: they are running out of money.
    Every US satellite state – the UK, Australia, South Korea, Japan and many others – needs to do what the Kurds ought to have done, smell the coffee and start making alternative arrangements.
    I’m pretty sure my country still has its head in the sand, not sure about the others.

  11. And on the subject of who got the civil war going, who armed Isis with arms from a destroyed Libya, who enabled Isis to fund the war throughselling oil in Turkey…..crickets.

  12. Very good post Tim, pretty well nailed it insofar as it can be nailed.

    As ever the clear thinking is NOT to be found in what is better called the Mostly Stupid Media.

  13. If you want excellent PR, you could do no better than to use the same PR outfit that those poor, harmless, put upon and persecuted Kurds use. Or perhaps not. Tom Kratman has a different perspective on them:

    https://mydailykona.blogspot.com/2019/10/post-about-kurds.html

    “Kurds” means something along the lines of “gangs” or organised crime like the Mafia or Chinese Snake Head gangs. As Tim pointed out, there are a wide variety of Kurds ranging from the bad to the positively evil. Choose your poison, as they say.

    They have been killing each other for at least 2,000 years and are hardly likely to give the violence and genocide up, start making hand knitted museli and singing Kumbaya around their camp fires if we ask them nicely. Let them sort it out themselves. Not one square foot of the Middle East or all of them put together are worth the life of a single western soldier.

  14. Why this imperative to pick sides in other people’s arguments? Usually the side currently losing.
    North London’s got a sizeable Turkish community. It also has a smaller Kurdish community. Having lived alongside both, if the Turks are shooting Kurds I’d be happy to chip in for the ammunition.
    It’s like the Roma. Always the recipients of persecution. Sad. Then you actually meet the Roma & swiftly come to the conclusion there isn’t nearly enough of it.
    That the Kurds are unpopular with the Turks, Iraqis, Syrians & anyone else comes across them might be telling you something about the Kurds.

  15. bloke in spain

    “It’s like the Roma. Always the recipients of persecution. Sad. Then you actually meet the Roma & swiftly come to the conclusion there isn’t nearly enough of it.”

    I recall many years ago an Aussie film maker, a very woke one, set out to make a documentary on the Roma to prove how welcoming and wonderful they were. The first 3/4 of the doco proceeds in this light, showing the happy meals shared with the Roma and much understanding and good times with these wonderful people. The last 1/4 of it is the film crew fleeing for their lives, very seriously, from these exact same people….

  16. Well, yes. If a group has been persecuted repeatedly throughout history, by a variety of other groups, then you can be certain that the cause is rooted in their own behaviour. There are no exceptions to this.

  17. There may well be a connection, Malt. But we’re trying to deal with a situation today, not re-write history.

  18. “What fortifications would they have?”

    It’s not BS. At least not totally.

    The Kurds use the region by the border to launch attacks on Turkish border posts and, sometimes, into Turkey itself. They had constructed their own fortifications from which to launch such attacks. The Turks complained to the US about it, threatening to reprise. So the US told the Kurds to stop it and dismantle some of these fortifications, to keep the Turks happy and on their side of the line.

    The problem is, as with many things in the Middle East, is that both sides have a point. The Kurdish YPG are friendly and relatively capable fighters who did a huge amount of work against ISIS. They are also Marxist guerrilla separatists who support attacks into Turkey (admittedly Kurdish regions!).

    Turkey is a NATO ally fighting to stop attacks on its populace and territory, which is an important commercial partner of the Kurdish region of Iraq. It is also a repressive regime that conducts abuses against the Kurdish minorities in the South East.

    The US presence in NE Syria wasn’t really about supporting the Kurds. It was about fighting ISIS, cutting Iran’s supply routes through Syria (to threaten Israel, in particular), and having a say in what happens next in Syria. Now that the Kurds have gone back under Assad to escape the Turks, we have pretty much reverted back to the pre-war situation. Makes you wonder what the point of it all was.

  19. Well, yes. If a group has been persecuted repeatedly throughout history, by a variety of other groups, then you can be certain that the cause is rooted in their own behaviour. There are no exceptions to this.

    Ahem, 109 countries!

  20. The United States has never looked as pathetic and weak as it has in the past few days. Though that’s probably more of a feature than a bug for the anti-Western Putin groupies who inhabit this blog.

  21. The Kurds were nomadic goat herders well into the 20th century.
    So I’d be intrigued to know whose land they claim as their ancestral home.

    @ Matt
    Well, yes. If a group has been persecuted repeatedly throughout history, by a variety of other groups, then you can be certain that the cause is rooted in their own behaviour. There are no exceptions to this.
    Oh I think there are: Jews, Jains, Yazidis, Hmong…
    And more recently Protestants, Catholics, Quakers,Kulaks, Boers, Falun Gong…

  22. Captain Dickhead–So when will you be over there to help the Kurds you warmongering puke? There is enough commie shite IN the US now without US soldiers dying to help another bunch of the bastards overseas.

  23. I have a few friends in Damascus and recently spent 9 months working with the Iraqi Kurds around Erbil. I’m also a UK ex-Army Officer. I personally think that Trump has pulled a blinder. He’s effectively ended the Syrian civil war by forcing the Kurds to accept autonomy within Syria rather than carve out an independent country. That would have destabilised both N Iraq and E Turkey. Even if the Kurds did get a homeland out of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran then they would just infight as each geographical group is loyal to different families.

    So the Kurds have now done a deal with Assad, and Erdogan will now also have to cut a deal. He faces US sanctions and now a Syrian army backed by Russia with tanks and air defence. He’s also isolated, but can save face if the Syrian Army, not the Kurds control the border area.

    The neocons, dems and media are all against Trump now as he is ending the middle east ‘forever wars’ that only seem to support Israel’s long term strategic interests. BTW when the Iraqi Kurds had their referendum and were protesting in the streets there were a few Israeli flags being waved by them, which I found interesting.

    On another note I see that Erdogan is threatening to send 3.5m refugees into Europe. I don’t see why that can be a threat, as refugees add to the economy and diversity is strength. Ahem…….

  24. If it looks like a betrayal, it’s almost as bad strategically as an actual betrayal. Footage of Russian soldiers entering an abandoned US base sends the message that Putin has won and Trump has run away from the fight. A display both of impotence and untrustworthiness.

    Assad – a junior partner of Putin’s – is close to retaking control of Syrian Kurdistan. Erdogan is getting his buffer zone along the Turkish border – less than he wants but more than he had two weeks ago. What is Trump getting out of it? Perhaps the US retreat is part of a bargain but honorable bargains don’t include selling out your allies.

  25. What is Trump getting out of it?

    He’s getting the US out of Syria where they had no business being.

    Assad – a junior partner of Putin’s – is close to retaking control of Syrian Kurdistan.

    I’m not sure why this ought to be a problem for Americans.

  26. Alex

    “If it looks like a betrayal, it’s almost as bad strategically as an actual betrayal. Footage of Russian soldiers entering an abandoned US base sends the message that Putin has won and Trump has run away from the fight.”

    What has Putin actually won? Syria is a disaster zone that will require decades and many billions of dollars to rebuild. What interest does the US have in that undertaking? It seems much smarter to give Putin his pyrrhic victory and let him fight with Turkey to control a worthless bit of dirt.

  27. The US had no horse in Syria. It was either Assad (dictator – not religious – aligned with Russia and Iran) or chaos with a helping of Sunni zealots. There was never any reason for the West to pick a side – although if there was a preferable side, it was probably Assad. Going int to finish off Isis was helpful for the West.

    The Iran link is because Iran is Shiite (and Assad is an Alawite, which means not quite Shia, but far from Sunni) and because Syria is aligned with Hezbollah in Lebanon, who are Iranian clients.

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