The Kurds are not an­gels t among the many Mus­lim na­tions, Amer­ica has had no bet­ter friend

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Clif­ford D. May

hey’re not an­gels.” That was Pres­i­dent Trump’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the Kurds last week. He’s right, of course, but which na­tion is? I’d like to pay a visit.

Also true: An­gels don’t make great sol­diers. And the Kurds, with Amer­i­can train­ing, as­sis­tance, ad­vice and com­bat air sup­port, were en­listed to fight the Is­lamic State, also known as ISIS, a bar­baric en­emy of Amer­i­cans, Kurds and other civ­i­lized na­tions.

This part­ner­ship stripped the self-de­clared caliphate of the ter­ri­to­ries it had con­quered, in the process elim­i­nat­ing thou­sands of ter­ror­ists, mass mur­ders, se­rial rapists and slave raiders.

The Kur­dish-led Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF) sus­tained more than 11,000 causal­i­ties. Eight Amer­i­can lives also have been lost since 2015 — each one a tragedy. Mil­i­tar­ily, how­ever, this has been an ex­tra­or­di­nary achieve­ment, a sus­tain­able model for low­in­ten­sity, pro­tracted con­flicts.

You know what hap­pened next — more or less. The dom­i­nant me­dia nar­ra­tive has been that Pres­i­dent Trump, in a phone call with Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, “green-lighted” a Turk­ish in­va­sion of north­east­ern Syria aimed at driv­ing out the Kurds.

Oth­ers have sug­gested that Mr. Er­do­gan didn’t ask for per­mis­sion, but merely warned Mr. Trump to get out of the way. “Turkey no­ti­fied us of an im­mi­nent mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion,” Sec­re­tary of De­fense Mark Esper said at a press con­fer­ence last week.

What should have been Mr. Trump’s re­sponse? How about: “Tayyip, my dear friend, our Kur­dish part­ners have done you no harm. We wouldn’t al­low that! Nev­er­the­less, you’ve said you want a ‘safe zone’ on your bor­der, and you will have one. Most im­por­tant: I know you value our al­liance and would never en­dan­ger Amer­i­can forces. Come visit me at the White House. To­gether, we’ll work ev­ery­thing out!”

In­stead, I fear, Mr. Trump said noth­ing much — as Mr. Er­do­gan an­tic­i­pated. Aware how anx­ious the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent was to with­draw the small con­tin­gent of spe­cial op­er­a­tors re­main­ing in north­east­ern Syria, how likely was it that he’d in­cur any risk at all to keep them there?

Turk­ish forces soon ini­ti­ated hos­til­i­ties against the now-aban­doned and out­gunned Kurds. A few days later, Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo rushed off to Turkey in an at­tempt to staunch the bleed­ing — lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive.

Our ad­ver­saries — not least those in North Korea, the Is­lamic Repub­lic of Iran, Rus­sia and China — will have taken note. Ex­pect un­pleas­ant reper­cus­sions.

As for Amer­ica’s al­lies and those we might like to in­clude in that cat­e­gory, they now doubt our re­li­a­bil­ity. That harms our in­ter­ests. But Amer­ica is a creedal na­tion which im­plies we have val­ues, too. Not be­tray­ing com­rades-in­arms — I think that’s among them.

Nev­er­the­less, it’s only fair to re­call that Mr. Trump was sad­dled with this sit­u­a­tion thanks to the weak­ness, vac­il­la­tion and bad judg­ment of the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The Is­lamic State arose fol­low­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s pre­ma­ture with­drawal of Amer­i­can forces from Iraq in 2011. At first, Mr. Obama dis­missed these self-pro­claimed ji­hadis as a “JV team.” That they were al Qaeda 2.0 soon be­came ob­vi­ous.

Be­lat­edly and some­what des­per­ately, Mr. Obama de­cided to uti­lize Syr­ian Kurds to bat­tle the Is­lamic State. There was no one else — cer­tainly not Mr. Er­do­gan — who could be trusted to get the job done.

But it was a so­lu­tion preg­nant with prob­lems be­cause many of those Kurds were mem­bers of a group (the YPG) linked to a far-left Kur­dish group in Turkey (the PKK) des­ig­nated as a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion by the United States.

That’s prob­a­bly what Mr. Trump had in mind when he said the Kurds are not an­gels. But the Kurds, like Amer­i­cans, are di­verse, a term which, prop­erly un­der­stood, im­plies more than col­or­ful clothes and ad­ven­tur­ous cui­sine.

When the Ot­toman Em­pire and caliphate col­lapsed af­ter World War I, the lands on which the Kurds have lived for a mil­len­nium were di­vided among Turkey (where Kurds com­prise roughly 20 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion), Iraq (where they were tar­gets of geno­cide un­der Sad­dam Hus­sein but now en­joy sub­stan­tial au­ton­omy), Iran (where they are sorely op­pressed) and Syria.

To­day, the 30 mil­lion Kurds in the Mid­dle East com­prise the world’s largest na­tion with­out a state of its own. I’m con­vinced that most Kurds have no higher pri­or­ity than to pre­serve their unique cul­ture, speak their own lan­guage (they ac­tu­ally have more than one) and live free from for­eign op­pres­sion.

I’m go­ing to leave you with a story that may help con­vince you, too. A few years ago, while trav­el­ing in Iraqi Kur­dis­tan,

As for Amer­ica’s al­lies and those we might like to in­clude in that cat­e­gory, they now doubt our re­li­a­bil­ity. That harms our in­ter­ests.

I was in­vited to dine with Hero Tal­a­bani, ma­tri­arch of a dis­tin­guished Kur­dish fam­ily and a renowned Kur­dish pa­triot. At the end of a sump­tu­ous meal, I posed an im­per­ti­nent ques­tion.

I ob­served that Sal­adin, the great 12th cen­tury Mus­lim con­queror, has been memo­ri­al­ized through­out much of the Mid­dle East. But Sal­adin was not an Arab or Turk. He was a Kurd. So why, I asked, was he not re­garded as a great hero here?

Mrs. Tal­a­bani squinted at the floor and took sev­eral puffs on a ci­garette be­fore re­spond­ing: “Kleeford, please tell me. Sal­adin: What did he do for the Kurds?”

Among the many Mus­lim na­tions in the world, Amer­i­cans have had no bet­ter friends than the Kurds. Like us, they have an aver­sion to em­pire builders, not least those who claim to be wag­ing ji­had against dis­be­liev­ers, heretics and apos­tates.

“Amer­ica first should not mean Amer­ica alone,” Don­ald Trump has said. Yet to­day Amer­ica is lone­lier than it was a few days ago. That’s due to an er­ror the pres­i­dent made, one he should as­sid­u­ously at­tempt to mit­i­gate.

Clif­ford D. May is founder and pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies (FDD) and a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times.


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