Last night, the White House abruptly announced that they plan to withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria and allows the Turkish army to launch an invasion of Kurdish coalition-held territory.
NBC News reports a furious Kurdish official has declared the Americans to be “traitors” who have abandoned them to a “Turkish massacre.” He warned that the campaign against the resurgent ISIS forces will suffer as the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish YPG-led military coalition of local militias, will be forced to redeploy their forces in order to counter the oncoming Turks.
Syria Kurdish official told us, reacting to Trump’s overnight decision.
“The Americans are traitors. They have abandoned us to a Turkish massacre.
We can no longer fight against isis and have to defend ourselves. This could allow isis to return to the region.”
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) October 7, 2019
The move is unfortunately only the latest in a long line of American betrayals of the Kurdish people that have usually resulted in some kind of horrific ethnic cleansing and brutal repression. In the 1970s, the US and Israel supported the establishment of a Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq and immediately abandoned it as Secretary of State Kissinger made other plans with the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein, turning the other cheek as the Iraqi army rolled in and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.
In 1988, the United States turned a blind eye as Saddam Hussein’s army launched the Anfal ethnic cleansing campaign, dropping tons of chemical weapons on Kurdish civilians with the help of American satellite data. Around 100,000 people died in the genocide as Iraqi units were ordered to bomb “in order to kill the largest number of persons present” and executed all prisoners between the ages of 15 and 70. But the U.S. was more interested in using Saddam as a cudgel against Iran — until we weren’t anymore, when the Anfal genocide became a convenient talking point justifying the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Even President Obama, who was all too happy to let the Kurds do the dirty work of driving ISIS out house by house and village by village, immediately sided with Turkey as soon as the Kurds were too successful. When the SDF finally liberated the ISIS-held city of Manbij in 2016 after a two-month-long siege at the cost of hundreds of Kurdish lives, the U.S. demanded that YPG forces retreat from the area in response to complaints from Turkey.
But the U.S. made no similar demand of Turkey when their forces annexed the Syrian Kurdish canton of Afrin in 2018 and immediately began ethnically cleansing the area.
The SDF fears that the same thing will happen to northern Syria if Turkey is allowed to invade and establish their planned 300-mile long “safe zone” in which to deport and resettle over a million Syrian refugees. Turkish military forces have quietly been committing massacres of Kurdish civilians in southwestern Turkey over the past few years and they may do the same in Syria.
Nothing highlights the cynical hypocrisy and fickle opportunism of America’s foreign policy better than the constant cycle of embrace and betrayal that we inflict upon the Kurds. Donald Trump’s entire presidency has been defined by taking longstanding U.S. policy and expressing it in its most grotesque, nonsensical and needlessly cruel form, and his foreign policy is no different.
Hopefully, this latest affront, which has managed to unite both Republican and Democrat in their criticism of the move, will help fuel a real discussion within the Democratic Party about the way that the United States treats its allies — and which nations are actually deserving of that status.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.