What will it take to prompt the Trump administration to recognize an independent Kurdistan?
For the past decade, we have extensively documented the practical, political, historical, legal, military, cultural, economic, social, and religious reasons why America must recognize Kurdistan.
Some argue that this approach to defeating global-jihadism is not timely while ignoring Kurds being repeatedly overcome by hostile neighbors such as Iran (following the fall of Kirkuk) and Turkey (which claims a military assault on Afrin—a key crossroad site in Syria—is imminent).
We thought we had dodged a Thanksgiving-weekend bullet when we launched a social media counterattack on Nov. 24 after Turkey’s Foreign Minister's announcement that US President Donald Trump vowed to stop arming anti-Islamic State (IS) Syrian Kurds following Trump’s conversation with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
On Nov. 27, it was announced that America would continue to support the Syrian Kurds.
Nevertheless, anything short of full recognition—as only Israel proffered to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) leading up to the Sep. 25 referendum—will continue to subject America to Turkey’s extortion (such as threatening to withdraw from NATO) and Iran’s hegemony (such as expanding its military activities throughout the region).
Indeed, further procrastination raises the question as to whether Washington envisions retaining a military presence in the Middle East post-IS, or relinquishing it’s hard-won assets and influence, to be divvied-up between Russia, Iran, and Turkey.
After an initial tough tone toward Russia and the announcement of a plan to counter Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Trump administration’s policies have had, in practice, a disastrous effect on its objectives.
The recent bungling of the joint Iraqi-Iranian assault on the Kurdistan Region, a loyal ally that shares American democratic and pluralistic values, was a slap in the face to a developing national entity that sacrificed life and resources to execute America’s war against IS. The people of Kurdistan are now in a state of shock after being abandoned by their ally in favor of a radical Iraqi Shia regime that is already under the thumb of the very Iran that Trump announced he was going to push back.
But, the cynical American use and disposal of Kurds does not stop in Iraq. The Syrian Kurds have also sacrificed their own goals and their soldiers lives en masse, all to do the dirty work that America ordered, to rid Syria of IS.
What did they receive in return? America kissing up to the vicious Turkish Islamic Brotherhood dictatorship of Erdogan, who has already curtailed democracy and freedom in his country, arrested thousands, virtually eliminated the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) after its election success, has repeatedly threatened the US including locking down the Incirlik Air Base with American personnel, planes, and nuclear weapons within, and has recently negotiated with NATO’s nemesis, Russia, to buy the sophisticated S-400 missile defense system!
The Sykes-Picot Agreement a century ago condescendingly and ruthlessly split up the four Kurdish territories and put the Kurds “in their place.” What is happening now, under the nose of an American government that befriended and assisted the Kurds until the defeat of IS in Iraq, is the selling out of the Kurds, at a loss of influence and strategic interests, to regimes whose interests are, to a large degree, in opposition to American interests: Russia, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq.
The ripple-effect of this horrendous policy failure and abandonment of democratic, pluralistic Kurdish allies is now being felt in greatly increased Iranian hegemony extending to Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, and the Gulf states. Lebanon’s Hariri—no friend of Israel—has been pushed to resign and condemn the militant missile-wielding Iran-sponsored Hezbollah despite their threats on his life, in a plea for America and the West to wake-up.
If nothing else, Trump should aspire to avoid validation of self-fulfilling prophecies of neo-isolationists from both political parties that America should not have invaded Iraq after Sep. 11, followed by involvement in the Syrian civil war.
American operations in Iraq have stabilized it only so long as they maintained a strong presence and joint operations. Upon leaving, such as former US President Barack Obama’s withdrawal, the situation declined precipitously. Despite Trump’s plan to restrain Iran and the IRGC two days earlier, the US acquiescence to the Oct. 16 violent Iraqi invasion of America’s ally, the Kurdistan Region, sent a message to Iran that countermanded in a second the entire effect of Trump’s plan.
Iraq, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Iran, and, yes, Turkey are never going to be true allies of the US because they do not share its values. The fact is they fit much better in the Russian camp, where they are all headed. There is no point in America trying to “date” Russia’s girlfriends.
An independent Kurdistan was extant in 1000 BCE, flourished in 1000 CE, was mandated to be re-established 100 years ago, and was to have had its independence confirmed electorally (as per the Iraqi Constitution) 10 years ago.
The Kurds do not want help from boots-on-the-ground or nation-building, for they have demonstrated the unique ability to do both effectively. The alternative is a Middle East carved-up between Turkey and Iran, empowering Russia.
America will not be able to lead and influence the Middle East unless Israel and the GCC strongly support an independent Kurdistan, and together form a strategic block to counter the Russian-Syria/Assad-Iran/Hezbollah axis. In the meantime, Iran will continue to appropriate critical resources (oil, water, minerals, etc.) from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen to finance its terror machine.
After a tremendous expenditure of human, financial, and ideological resources, the US is poised to be excluded from Syria and Iraq, and be replaced by the free world’s most treacherous enemy, Iran—even as Trump’s staff is busy developing a Syrian strategy for the post-IS era.
It is time to realize that bigger is not necessarily better. It is time to realize that no matter how much aid or strong presence you have in a foreign country, if that country does not share your values, it is a waste of time, and your influence will cease the moment you leave.
The only ally in the Middle East, aside from Israel, that shares America’s democratic and pluralistic values, is the Kurdish people: in Iraq, in Syria, and, yes, also in the sorely neglected and abused Kurdish communities of Turkey and Iran.
Only by supporting the Kurdish autonomies and future statehoods, and arming and providing financial assistance in developing their economies, can the US create safe zones for refugees and a solid foundation to influence and bring peace to the region.
It is time for America to choose its allies, not inherit them by default. The Kurds, like Israel, are such an ally. They should not be left “waiting for Godot.”
(Sherkoh Abbas and Robert Sklaroff contributed to this report)
This article constitutes the policy of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, which Sherkoh Abbas serves as its President. Ben-Zion Joseph is director of the Israel-Kurdistan NGO "Fostering Friendship, Cooperation and Diplomatic Relations.” Robert Sklaroff is a physician-activist.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kurdistan 24.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany