Why the Abandonment of the Kurds Matters
Updated: Oct 16, 2019
The #Trump presidency has been nearly three years of sharp partisan divide. Other than agreeing James Comey is really tall (he's 6'8") or that Rudy Giuliani is actually crazy OR maybe that it might look a bit shady if you take a board seat with a Ukrainian energy company (while your dad is Vice President of the United States who is overseeing the transition of government in Ukraine), there hasn't been much the Democrats and Republicans have had any agreement on. But last week's decision by President Trump to move US forces out of Northern Syria led to a rare kumbaya moment between politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Who are the Kurds?
They're a group of people in Western Asia that don't have a homeland. There are around 30 million of them spread across Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Most of whom are Sunni Muslims. After World War 1, they were promised their own country, "Kurdistan", but that promise was as good as Mexico paying for the wall. In every country the Kurds are settled in, they are a minority group of that country. In 1988, Saddam Hussein launched a chemical attack against the Kurds in one of the most gruesome attacks in modern history.
What's happening in Syria?
Since 2011, Syria has been engulfed in a bloody civil war that has displaced millions of Syrians across the globe. In one of the largest humanitarian crises in modern history, Syria is one huge mess with powers across the world having their presence felt in the war-torn country. From Russia to the United States to Iran to China to Turkey, actors across the globe have sought to influence how the war will play out. The chaos and calamity in Syria led to the rise of the abhorrent and evil group, ISIS.
The United States entered the war in Syria in 2014 with airstrikes and eventually had small pockets of soldiers enter the country to train forces to help defeat groups like ISIS. At its peak in 2015, ISIS controlled over 10 million people in Syria and Iraq but as of October 2019, it basically controls nothing. The defeat was led by the Kurdish ground force who did all the dirty work.
Ok, so what's the big deal of pulling US troops out of Syria if ISIS is defeated?
Well for starters, just because they don't control large swaths of land doesn't necessarily mean the group or ideology is defeated. However, pulling troops out of Northern Syria has essentially given the green light for Turkey to go in and attack the Kurds. The same people who have courageously fought alongside US troops in Syria (and in Iraq in the US-led invasion of Iraq that began in 2003. The Kurdish army in Iraq is called the Peshmerga). They have been loyal to the United States and have never asked for anything other than the tools to defeat evil in Syria. Thousands of them died in the fight against ISIS. Their deaths were the reason why US and coalition casualties were so low in Syria.
Wait, if they are these loyal and great soldiers, why is Turkey attacking them?
A large portion of Turkey's population is Kurdish, a rough estimate of 20%. In the 20th century, there were numerous attempts by the Kurds in Turkey to create their own autonomous country. This was squashed every time in sometimes bloody battles between ethnic Turks and the Kurds. Northern Syria borders Turkey and now with ISIS essentially defeated in terms of land ownership, the Kurds were patrolling and essentially governing this large swath of land. Turkey sees this as a threat.
What was the Donald Trump phone call with Turkey's President?
THIS IS DIFFERENT FROM THE INFAMOUS UKRAINIAN CALL
Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan doesn't exactly have a great record as he's been accused of numerous corrupt activities. To many, he's seen as a dictator (writing about him would be worth another post). President Trump has taken flack for his rather friendly and odd relationships with dictators across the globe, from President Putin to President Erdogan to Kim Jung Un. On a Sunday call in early October with President Erdogan of Turkey, President Trump agreed to move US troops out of Northern Syria so that Turkey can essentially invade the Kurds in that area. The Kurds are no match for the aerial and ground forces that Turkey has. After fighting valiantly, courageously and ferociously, the United States had signed their death warrant at the hands of the Turkish military.
Surprising your grandmother for her 75th birthday as long as she has a healthy heart, that's a good surprise. Surprising military officials that you're moving out of Syria, not so much. The agreement came as a complete surprise to the Pentagon, intelligence community and policymakers in Washington. After what the Kurds had done for the United States, everyone was shocked the President had decided to abandon them.
Why is Donald Trump catching heat from both Republicans and Democrats?
Members of Congress were utterly shocked to hear about President Trump's decision to move out of Northern Syria. After all the blood the Kurds spilled in Syria on behalf of the US and coalition forces, members of Congress felt the United States was leaving them to get annihilated at the hands of the Turkish military. Lindsey Graham who once famously said during the 2016 Presidential campaign on Trump being elected " we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it" has become one of President Trump's staunchest defenders. However, he too has called the abandonment of the Kurds a "disaster" and a "nightmare". In addition to an impending genocide of the Kurds, there is the fact that the Kurds are guarding thousands of ISIS prisoners in Syria. With the conflict with Turkey, those soldiers guarding the prison will have to leave their posts leading to thousands of terrorists potentially fleeing prison and back into society. A horrendous scenario if it were to happen. In addition, it will allow Iran, Russia and even China to dictate policy and influence in Syria.
With everyone in Congress and the Pentagon seemingly against this decision, why did President Trump decide to pull out the troops?
The call with President Erdogan has perplexed everyone in Washington. No one saw this coming. To leave an ally out in the cold to get slaughtered has angered everyone. President Trump came out swinging questioning how long are we supposed to stay in Syria if we don't leave now? Since the early 2000's, the US has spent trillions of dollars in the Middle East. And he does have a point. Do we want the United States to continue to police the Middle East, spending trillions of dollars while our infrastructure crumbles and our veterans can't get the proper healthcare? However, it was reported that it was an estimated 50-100 troops that were moved out of Northern Syria. That small contingency was what was stopping an all-out Turkish invasion of our Kurdish allies.
So, that was A LOT to read, what now?
President Trumps decision to move out of Northern Syria destabilizes an already destabilized region. President Trump continues to stand firm on moving the troops though the criticism is fierce from both sides of the aisle and public. In order to deter a complete genocide, President Trump has threatened Turkey with sanctions if he believes the actions taken by the Turkish military are overboard. Lindsey Graham has spearheaded a bipartisan effort to slap Turkey with sanctions that will attempt to cripple Turkey's economy. This act of abandonment with a US ally will hurt the United States attempts to create alliances in the future as countries and groups view how the United States treats their "allies". However, how much longer can the United States police the Middle East? With trillions of US taxpayer dollars spent on wars in the Middle East and thousands of soldiers killed, is there ever going to be a "good" time to pull out?
The situation in the Middle East is complicated. But the loyalty of the Kurdish people to the United States was not. They were as loyal of an ally as you can ask for. Hopefully the situation in Northern Syria deescalates but if history tells us anything, that's just wishful thinking.