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 Apparently this was Trump’s fault, as he’d withdrawn the couple of hundred US special forces who’d been helping the Kurds fight ISIS, and many people saw this as giving a green light to Erdogan.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?