As America woke up and got on Twitter yesterday, there was a lot of this sort of sentiment:
We cannot leave the Kurds without support. That is not what America wants.
— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) December 21, 2018
Some moron who subsequently blocked me asked how can Trump talk about loyalty after such “betrayal of the Kurds”. Even Noam Chomsky is writing articles supporting American military intervention overseas, which is the equivalent of a Liverpool fan saying he hopes for a smooth transition at Manchester United following the sacking of Jose Mourinho.
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.
I’m sure there are US military commanders on the ground in Syria who feel they are betraying local Kurdish forces with whom they’ve built up strong relationships, but this does not make up for a lack of overall strategy. The Kurds might also note that in 2014 when ISIS was at its height and they were facing annihilation on the Turkish border during the Siege of Kobani, the US did and said nothing. What we’re seeing from the American chattering classes are crocodile tears; their concern for the Kurds is opportunism at its very worst.