It is well-documented that American Conservative political leaders and voters are far more supportive of Iraqi Kurdish political ambitions, at least since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in spring 2003. As Seth Lipsky cogently wrote, “The best friend the Kurds have had in the American debate...have been the neo-conservatives, who marshaled backing for the Iraqi Kurds.” Indeed, many Iraqi Kurds are quite vocal in their support for former U.S. President George W. Bush, seen as a “liberator,” whereas President Barack Obama has been more concerned with Ankara's and Baghdad's sensibilities. Though Iraqi Kurds are more than deserving of U.S.-backing, comprehensive policies should not be partisan-based—U.S. foreign policy should remain debated among Democrats and Republicans alike.
Interestingly, Conservatives have been pushing for more military assistance for the pro-western Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, while simultaneously supporting the more ideologically divergent Syrian Kurdish “Rojava revolution,” significantly based on anarchism, Marxism, and socialist ideologies.
The U.S. has increased military backing for Kurds on either side of the Tigris, and while Iraqi Kurds welcome long-term military engagement, it is unclear what similar ramifications will hold for U.S.-Rojava relations. As Aaron Lund explains, “...[this] alliance is not such a perfect marriage. It’s more like an unfortunate Tinder date: initial ambitions align, but you don’t have a lot of interests in common and your friends roll their eyes.”
Considered the mainstream front-runner in the next presidential election, Hillary Clinton is as polarizing as she is familiar but arguably the most qualified out of all the candidates regarding foreign policy, given her position as Secretary of State under the Obama administration. Breaking with her former boss, last month she publicly declared that what happened to Yezidi Kurds and Iraqi Christians amounts to “genocide.”
Democrats may yet again secure the highest office and have been increasingly paying attention to Kurdish issues. In a recent speech given at the Council of Foreign Affairs, Clinton outlined her plans for Syria and Iraq and included Kurds multiple times. Though clearly cautious and vague in discussing Syrian Kurds, she has crucially taken notice of Turkey's seeming obsession in reducing their military victories and therefore limiting their control over Syrian territory, stating, “...Turkey has been more focused on the Kurds than on countering ISIS...[and]...has a long and painful history with Kurdish terrorist groups...we need to get Turkey to stop bombing Kurdish fighters in Syria who are battling ISIS...”
Though she still hesitates to fully embrace the effective military wing of the Democratic Union Party (YPG) she offers incoherent platitudes suggesting “...we’ve got to work with the Kurds on both sides of the border,” meaning what is left of Syria and Iraq, respectively. By referring to “Kurdish terrorist groups,” she is clearly sending Ankara a message that the status-quo classification of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey will be upheld.
Bifurcating from her cloudy views on Rojava, her support for Iraqi Kurds has been far more trenchant, affirming the need for the U.S. to arm Kurds, along with Sunni (Arab) tribes. While praiseworthy that she acknowledges Peshmerga's effectiveness against ISIS, there is no indication her presidential administration would promote increased Kurdish autonomy in the region.
Though Clinton is thought to win the Democratic nominee, by some estimations, the leftist Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders, could actually become the front runner. Importantly, the dovish Senator expressed willingness to directly arm Peshmerga fighters. Though clearly more concerned with domestic issues, in the mid-December Democratic debate, he surprisingly came out in support of the Syrian Kurdish YPG. He was also perhaps too honest when he said on NBC's “Meet the Press” that the Middle East would be “much more stable” with Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Bashar Assad still in power. Clinton also frequently recalls her mistake in voting to go to war in Iraq.
It is also somewhat ironic then, that Sanders supports Syrian Kurds, along with his political rivals. As Nick Danforth writes in Al Jazeera America, “Over a series of GOP presidential candidates’ debates, Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Rand Paul, and Carly Fiorina [...] advocated increased U.S. support for Syria’s Kurds. Needless to say, this is a remarkable feat for a group whose emblem is a large red star.” As Paul stated at a CNN debate last year, “The Kurds deserve to be armed and I’ll arm them.” Even Jeb Bush threw his support with Kurds, but with the exception of Cruz, none of these candidates are considered viable, as a recent poll suggests.
It is important to note that out of all the bipartisan support for increased military assistance to both Peshmerga as well as the PYD, only Rand Paul has come out in support of an independent Kurdistan. Regardless of who wins the Democratic or Republican nominee, it is clear that Kurds have become a subject of increased interest and importance for American voters. While the war with ISIS has caused tremendous hardship and pain for Kurds, in reality, they have successfully created Kurdistan, and Americans are starting to notice.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan24.