Volume 5 Number 223
There is a story that has made the rounds in sporting circles for years. Heard about the guy who lost $100 betting on the football game? He lost $50 on the game and $50 on the instant replay. Unfortunately, the Kurds are just like that schnook of a bettor. They keep putting their money on the United States time and time again, and wind up losers all the time. The latest Trump fiasco is another instance in a long history of supposed allies, particularly the United States, letting the Kurds down.
The Kurds are a large ethnic group of around 40 million people, spread out in the Middle East on the intersection of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. They are descended from an Iranian group. The Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in the region, but they have no country of their own. Mostly Sunni Muslims, they have their own language. Kurds are known over the centuries to be fierce fighters. They sometimes constitute autonomous regions within a country, but are denied their own state by their hosting countries.
The United States finds this handy, because we have a beef from time to time with the four countries these folks live in. So we arm the Kurds and make them a tool of our policy when it suits our needs.
In the same way, we dispose of them when we no longer find them useful. And the Kurds go along with this because they foolishly think that we will ultimately back them in their quest for independence. Also, the alternatives are usually not so nifty. Usually it doesn’t go well for the Kurds, just as the latest goings-on are proving.
The place where the Kurds are closest to being a country is in the Iraqi Kurdistan region, where they have been allowed, with the support and approval of the United States government, to create the Kurdistan Regional Government. They hold regular elections, and a cabinet is named by the majority party, along with the prime minister and president, who share power. Women have full rights in this region and it is considered the most enlightened government in the Arab region.
This all started after World War I, when the Allies were busy breaking up the Ottoman Empire. At the time, despite promises, the Kurds were let down, with the concurrence of the United States. They were denied a land of their own when the British and French created Iraq and Syria, making no provision for the Kurds. This has led to numerous genocides and rebellions. The dispute continues today with armed guerrilla conflicts in places where there are substantial Kurdish populations.
After World War II, the United States became the main power broker in the Middle East. We supported the Kurds in the late 50s and early 60s in Iraq, against the corrupt rule of dictator Abdel Karim Kassem. Following a military coup in Iraq that allowed a young Saddam Hussein to take power, we cut off our aid to the Kurds end even provided the new Iraqi government with napalm, which we later found out they used against the Kurds.
By the 1970s the Iraqi government had shifted into the orbit of the Soviet Union. So we made a deal with Iran, to arm the Iraqi Kurds. Our intention was just to cause unrest in Iraq, not to topple the government. Years later, the U.S. signed an agreement with the Shah of Iran to cut off military aid to the Iraqi Kurds. This left them at the mercy of Saddam’s troops and he proceeded to slaughter thousands in the northern reaches of Iraq. In the 1980s, the Iraqis again moved on to genocide against the Kurds, including the use of chemical weapons. The United States didn’t stop them from doing this because we liked the damage Saddam was doing to Iran
Then came the Gulf War in 1991. President George H.W. Bush called on the people of Iraq to force Saddam Hussein to step aside. The Kurds chipped in, and rebelled in the North. But after a while the United States withdrew, leaving Iraq, with an all-but-defeated Saddam, still in power. He went after, you guessed it, the Kurds with a vengeance, flooding the countryside and bombarding their cities and villages. We eventually protected the Kurds in the north but they had paid a tremendous price.
So this got us to our latest betrayal. This one, of course, occurred in northern Syria. This is a complicated mess. It started out with a rebellion by a group of Syrians, calling themselves the Syrian National Coalition, against the Ba’athist autocratic regime of Bashar al-Assad. He has used chemical weapons against his own countrymen who oppose him. Others interceded, primarily providing arms and logistical support. The current regime is backed by Iran, ISIS and Russia. (We particularly don’t want Russia to get a foothold in the Middle East)
The rebels are supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, most of the other Gulf States, and until a couple of weeks ago, the Kurds. The Kurds had been our particular ally. Active militarily, they basically had beaten back ISIS, who also joined in the battle on side of al-Assad.
The Kurds were, however, a thorn in the side of Turkey, always carrying on about how they wanted to be independent. The Turks created a buffer zone in the area where the Kurds live, and were basically hostile to them. We maintained a presence of about two thousand troops there as advisors, and they were a shield for the Kurds from the forces of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Just a year ago the president was praising the Kurds as, “Great allies. They fought with us. They died with us. We have not forgotten.” And then on a Sunday in early October, in a casual telephone call with President Trump, the Turkish president suddenly asked the United States to leave Syria. President Trump, without discussing this with his ambassador to Turkey, his aides, advisors, foreign affairs officials or the State Department, agreed.
In a way, his agreement was consistent with his prior thinking, because candidate Trump back in 2016 had campaigned on a promise to get us out of the Middle East. But the timing was a shocker. President Erdoğan began attacking the Kurdish troops and cities in Northern Syria faster then you could say “betrayal.” Hundreds of ISIS soldiers, who the Kurds had imprisoned and guarded, escaped n the melee and may be taking arms again. Meanwhile we still hadn’t gotten a thousand of our troops out of northern Syria yet, and they are “in harm’s way.”
Our country is in an uproar, with even the president’s most loyal supporters in Congress, like Senators Lindsay Graham and Mitch McConnell, outspokenly protesting. On Wednesday, October 16, 2019, the House of Representatives, with all the Democrats and even two-thirds of Republicans approving, rebuked the president for his action. This is a mild slap on the wrist but may be an indicator that Republicans are getting closer to standing up against the president. The Senate is expected to follow suit.
The president sent Vice President Michael Pence and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo off to Istanbul to broker a deal with President Erdoğan for a truce with the Kurds. They worked out some kind of sell-out that looks worse than what Neville Chamberlain did in Munich for Czechoslovakia, before World War II. President Trump calls it a “great deal” for the Kurds. But it will require the Kurds to leave the disputed area, which was worse than what the Czechs had to do “back then.” It is hard to see that the Kurds are getting anything in return. There were reports that the Turks weren’t honoring the truce and were continuing to bomb the Kurds. Meanwhile, as part of the deal, president Trump has removed some of the embargoes he’d slapped on Turkey.
The president has tried to cover up saying that this is a great deal for the Kurds. He even interjected a put-down, saying the Kurds didn’t back us up in World War II (would you believe that?), were in it for the money, and weren’t such great fighters. As our troops began to leave, the locals were throwing potatoes at our moving armored vehicles as a sign of their disdain for the sell-out.
The story continued to unfurl. On Tuesday, October 22, Turkish President Erdoğan signed a deal with Russian President Putin in which they gleefully agreed to carve up the vacated Kurdish territory. This gives Russia something they have dearly sought, a stake in the Middle-East. Now Turkey, our ally in NATO, has made a deal with the essentially rogue state, Russia. A fine kettle of fish.
Commentators on CNN and MSNBC were saying that this was the worst thing that could have happened, that Russia has now surpassed us as the major player in the Middle-East, and we have been shown to be powerless. There is no bottom here. Meanwhile Fox News continued its merry way, still reporting that Hillary Clinton should have been locked up because of her private server emails. What else is new?
Meanwhile the Kurds, in order to survive, are hooking up with our enemy, the government of Syria, and President Bashar al-Assad. They hope al-Assad will get the Turks off their backs. It’s like a game of Abbot and Costello’s, “Who’s on first? No. He’s on second,” with reminiscences of musical chairs.
Our military people and historians are calling it one of the worst sell-outs, a fiasco that will stain American honor for years to come. It is expected to be a long time before our allies won’t be wondering if they can rely on us for anything.
It is said that the president doesn’t consider the abandonment of the Kurds a betrayal, mainly because he doesn’t understand that there is such a thing as a betrayal. It is reported in The Atlantic of October 15, 2019, “It’s like trying to explain color to a person born with no eyesight.”
Think about loyalty as being the opposite of betrayal. Trump has been loyal to practically no one, starting with his former friends, ex-wives, employees, and people he did business with. Going beyond this personal group, in just a couple of years in Washington DC, he has betrayed the Constitution, the rule of law, the citizens of his country, the Republican Party, former aides, government officials, Cabinet members, human decency, and now a group of people 7,000 miles away. That’s quite a list of accomplishments. So far, it looks like the only ones he hasn’t turned on are his kids, Ivanka, Don Jr., Eric, Tiffany and Barron, but they must be constantly looking over their shoulders.
Well, maybe his timing wasn’t the best. But the president is continuing a line of behavior and betrayal of the Kurds stretching back a hundred years. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised here either.
“The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.”
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