The Kurdish Question

 

KurdsI knew nothing about the Kurds prior to last summer. But — as whole Iraqi divisions fled in panic in the face of the ISIS onslaught, ditching their uniforms and weapons as they fled — there was an overlooked people who didn’t disgrace themselves: the Kurds.

The most startling images that came out of Iraqi Kurdistan were of beautiful, young women in fatigues, smiling with AKs on their backs and going into battle alongside men as equals. In fact, there are whole Kurdish militia units of women. These militias have been integral in repelling ISIS from Kobane, where a genocide would surely occur if it fell.

The Kurds, while majority Muslim, bear little resemblance to their demoralized Iraqi neighbors. Nor do they share in the misogyny, fundamentalism, or cruelty of their jihadist foes. On the contrary, there is a level of liberty, enlightened equality of sexes, and pluralism absent everywhere around them save for Israel.

And speaking of Israel, the Kurds recognize that they share a great deal in common with the Jews in the Middle East. Like Israel, they are a small and often persecuted minority surrounded by enemies. How many Muslim countries’ flags have you seen side by side with Israeli flags in rallies?

Kurds 2

And most importantly of all, they are ferocious fighters. Their legendary Peshmerga units and militias have evicted ISIS from virtually all Kurdish territory that was occupied last year. With help from Coalition air strikes, the Kurds have put up stiff resistance in Kobane, or as they have nicknamed it, “Kobanegrad.” And each day, they march closer to the city of Mosul. It goes without saying that should ISIS ever be defeated, the world will owe the Kurds a great deal of the thanks and credit for it.

Which brings me to the obvious question: why doesn’t the US government support a free and independent Kurdistan? Yes, at least Iraqi Kurdistan is now autonomous after the defeats the Iraqi government suffered last summer. But what are the downsides to recognizing the Kurds as a nation comprised of Iraqi Kurdistan and all present and future territorial gains they make against ISIS? Robert Zubrin wrote a piece for NRO last fall on what the US stands to gain from a free Kurdistan. The key line:

When we invaded Iraq in 2003, a key objective was to create a free country, whose prosperity and decency would serve as a beacon of light in the region, showing to all the benefits of taking an alternative path from fanaticism, hatred, and tyranny. The hopes for such a wonderful outcome proved illusory in the Sunni and Shiite Arab parts of the country, whose inhabitants chose to use the gift of liberty that we provided them to engage in endless murder and mayhem. But in Kurdistan, the gift was not spurned. The dream was not betrayed. Where the Shiite and Sunni Arab factions have sought only to destroy, the Kurds have sought to build. While the Arab fanatics contend to turn the rest of the country into a pile of wreckage, in Erbil, the Kurdish capital, universities are growing, enterprises are blossoming, and gleaming skyscrapers are rising.

So that there is no mistaking me for being objective here, I have become something of a Kurdish nationalist the past year and have since befriended several foreign volunteers in the Kurdish militias. Their selfless adventurism is not unlike that of the Lord Byrons and Jack Haceys of history.

In a region lacking in friends, it is bizarre that we would so blithely ignore a pro-Israel, pro-America people willing to fight our enemies to the death.

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  1. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Byron Horatio: In a region lacking in friends, it is bizarre that we would so blithely ignore a pro-Israel, pro-America people willing to fight our enemies to the death.

    Agreed.

    • #1
  2. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @BallDiamondBall

    Kurds must continue to die no matter what natural allies they may be, so that Turkey may continue to wield undue influence, no matter what natural enemies they have become.

    The sorry condition of Kurdistan is the result of Defense being on one side of the fight, and State being on the other.

    • #2
  3. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Byron Horatio:

    Which brings me to the obvious question; why does the US government not support a free and independent Kurdistan? Yes, at least Iraqi Kurdistan is now autonomous after the defeats the Iraqi government suffered last summer. But what are the downsides to us telling the Kurds that we will recognize them as a fellow nation comprised of Iraqi Kurdistan and all present and future territorial gains they make against ISIS?

    Because Kurds will expand “Kurdistan” to wherever there are Kurdish tribes.  So the Kurds would not only consolidate their territory in Iraq, but seek to unify it with their Kurdish brethren in Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Georgia.

    I’m not sure that it’s a bad thing.  I think it’d be kind of interesting to watch.  But whatever the possible upsides of supporting the Kurds (and the inevitable Kurdish expansion), our policy makers and diplomats will ever prefer the static to the dynamic, the known to the unknown.  Always.

    • #3
  4. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    It seems the expansion of a pro-western, pro-Israel polity in the heart of the Middle East that comes at the expense of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria…can only be a good thing.

    • #4
  5. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Related but not necessarily relevant:  I got a friend who is an Army SF guy, and was a leader in 10th Special Forces Group when they teamed up with the Pesh Merga to take down the Al-Anser terror camps in N. Iraq back in 2003 (I almost wrote ” ’03”, but then figured that would read like a story from an old Buffalo skinner telling tales whilst whittling on the porch of the general store).

    I ran in to him when he got back from that Iraq tour and offered up a big ol’ rebel yell and a high five, “Brother, going into combat at the head of 10,000 screaming PeshMerg!!  That is living the dream!”

    He told me, with zero enthusiasm, “Dude, those guys’ tactics are ‘front rank kneeling, second rank standing.’  So yeah, I volunteered to be in on the Normandy invasion, but I wasn’t really looking to be the first guy off the first boat in the first wave.  That was egregious.”

    Turned out alright though.  Until we decided to start ceding everything we fought for.

    • #5
  6. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Byron Horatio:It seems the expansion of a pro-western, pro-Israel polity in the heart of the Middle East that comes at the expense of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria…can only be a good thing.

    Our policy makers and diplomats will ever prefer the static to the dynamic, the known to the unknown.  Always.

    Try something else, you will (as an example) be labeled a “neocon” and marginalized as quickly as possible.

    • #6
  7. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    Unfortunately it was the neocons who passed up on the golden opportunity that was presented to them after Sadaam fell. Ironically, Joe Biden seemed to be the closest when he suggested splitting the country three ways. Since that is inevitably what will happen with the civil war there, it seems like it would have been better to just rip off the bandaid while still there.

    • #7
  8. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Byron Horatio:Unfortunately it was the neocons who passed up on the golden opportunity that was presented to them after Sadaam fell.Ironically, Joe Biden seemed to be the closest when he suggested splitting the country three ways.Since that is inevitably what will happen with the civil war there, it seems like it would have been better to just rip off the bandaid while still there.

    I know.  Every course of action advocating changing the status quo–after regime change–was attributed to the neocon cabal.  And I think Biden’s proposition would’ve been way more destabilizing and destructive, way quicker.

    • #8
  9. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    Boss Mongo:

    Byron Horatio:Unfortunately it was the neocons who passed up on the golden opportunity that was presented to them after Sadaam fell.Ironically, Joe Biden seemed to be the closest when he suggested splitting the country three ways.Since that is inevitably what will happen with the civil war there, it seems like it would have been better to just rip off the bandaid while still there.

    I know. Every course of action advocating changing the status quo–after regime change–was attributed to the neocon cabal. And I think Biden’s proposition would’ve been way more destabilizing and destructive, way quicker.

    ?So you’re against what will happen.

    I think we forget how these borders came about at our peril. Lloyd George drew them to suit Great Britain and secure their communications with their great imperial possession – India. Not much that was drawn was logical; now we are finding that out.

    Turkey is the BIG reason we don’t support the Kurds. Yet Erdogan has hardly been a fine friend. I see no reason to not support the Kurds, if for no other reason than to repay Erdogan for all his perfidity.

    • #9
  10. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Erdogan will not last forever and Turkey will still be a NATO ally when he’s gone.

    • #10
  11. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    Indeed. Erdogan is at best a horrible friend if not an enemy. Our “friendship” is only based on outdated Cold War alliances and also because Turkey used to be a much more secular regime.

    • #11
  12. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    Zafar – Erdogan may personally die, but the islaamist bent of Turkey will remain. AND Turks are demographically dying out. Even within the current borders of Turkey the Kurds will make up the majority of military-aged males in 20 years or less. It’s what has Erdogan in such a panic.

    Myself, I see little about Turkey being in NATO that is of advantage as we stand. Once it was a place for forward bases. But of late they have denied us transit on several occasions.

    • #12
  13. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Devereaux:Zafar – Erdogan may personally die, but the islaamist bent of Turkey will remain. AND Turks are demographically dying out. Even within the current borders of Turkey the Kurds will make up the majority of military-aged males in 20 years or less. It’s what has Erdogan in such a panic.

    Imo Turkey has to work through this Islamic bent – suppressing it (as Ataturk attempted) clearly doesn’t work, in fact it might even have come back stronger. (Look at how Tito’s suppression of religion and ethnic nationalism in Yugoslavia worked out.)

    Wrt Turks and Kurds, I think they are mostly homogamous, but the number of intermarriages is increasing – iow, the question of who is a Turk and who is a Kurd, especially in large Turkish cities like Istanbul or Ankara, is becoming less clear cut. This is actually a reversion to Ottoman mores, where confessional identity (Sunni, Alevi, Orthodox, Catholic) was important wrt marriage and ethnicity was much less, if at all, relevant. In a weird way Ataturk made Kurdish nationalism an issue when he decided that Turkey was the nation state of the Turks.

    Anyway, I can see why the AKP wants to transition (or is already there ideologically?) to being the party for Sunnis (of whom there will continue to be plenty in Turkey) rather than one for ethnic Turks.  But then what about the Alevis?  It’s another inevitable disaster waiting to happen.

    • #13
  14. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    What perplexes me the most, and I think it is indicative of a general foreign policy incompetence on our side, is why has no major Republican candidate for the presidency pushed for this? I get it, there’s no big Kurdish vote to be had. But it would be a breath of fresh air hearing a major Republican champion an independent and allied Kurdistan instead of talking about a “strong and unified Iraq.” Maybe that’s exactly what we don’t want or need.

    • #14
  15. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Why are small, homogenous (presumably) stable(r) States in the Middle East better for the West than large, diverse, unstable ones?

    • #15
  16. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    Zafar #15

    I think you just answered our own question.

    • #16
  17. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    Zafar,

    I think keeping a large factional country like Iraq a united entity just because that’s the way it’s been (for 100 years) is a poor excuse to maintain the status quo. We made a catastrophic error by turning Iraq into a Shia Islamic Republic. The inept and corrupt regime played no small role in the Sunnis flocking to ISIS. And it became a de facto client state of Iran.

    It is not the size of counties that is the issue, but rather their respective decency that concerns me. And aside from being uniquely enlightened economically, religiously, and in matters concerning women’s rights, they would be a dependable ally and counterweight to surly actors in Iran, Turkey, and Syria.

    • #17
  18. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Devereaux:Zafar #15

    I think you just answered our own question.

    I guess, but it’s a bit depressing.

    • #18
  19. Devereaux Inactive
    Devereaux
    @Devereaux

    “Diversity” is only touted in the West. Here in the States it is actually a relatively new concept. While we have had diverse origins, we have not had that much of an ethnic division (except by colour).

    In most “nations” the diverse factor is a long-standing one, and the segments have not assimilated much. It is not clear that when you have major segments that hold to themselves – and Kurds do – you can get over these barriers easily.

    • #19
  20. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Byron I couldn’t agree more.  I just don’t see the drawback from supporting the Kurds any way possible.  In the selfish sense we could also gain INFLUENCE in the region as well.  I know that’s soooo 1980’s but the opposite seems to be our Syria “strategy” which is a dumpster fire.  The Kurds don’t even seem like a lesser evil (which is often the choice in the middle east) but a possible ally that is willing to fight for themselves, is grateful of the help we can give them, and opposes the radical islamists that our government is afraid to even name.

    • #20
  21. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    When I saw this, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. It’s a discussion that we should be having, but in a very clear-eyed way. Without a bit of romanticism about it.

    A first question I have to ask is who these friends are, and how you made them. There are Kurdish militias that have left bombs for me to stumble over–not for me, personally, I’m sure, but they wouldn’t have minded one bit, and considered it a nice bonus. 

    There are a lot of militias in this story, and a lot of different Kurds. These people, for example, are Kurds, and very real. Kurds don’t all get along. Some are not people we remotely want to empower, except in a Stalin versus Hitler way–and then we shouldn’t be surprised if we empower Stalin.

    It may be that this is indeed the best of a lot of bad options, but there’s no poetry or Byron in this story. It’s real people, and a lot of blood.

    “They” are a very, very diverse group. But to the extent “they” exist, they’re generally not “pro-America,” and they have little reason to be. “They” are generally not at all romantic about us. If the phrase “we have no friends but the mountains” isn’t very familiar to you, keep reading until it’s very, very familiar. “They” know us too well to be used by us, and we should know them well enough to know that. They won’t suddenly love you because you discovered them last year. Doesn’t mean what you’re suggesting is the wrong foreign policy strategy in a very cruel, Realpolitik way. But this is one cruel part of the world. Nothing romantic about it. There are some Kurdish nationalists who are very, very serious about ethnic cleansing. There are also Kurdish liberal democrats who are, in fact, my friends. But there’s a reason why my first instinct was “good” when I heard this news. It’s the same reason my first instinct was “good” when I heard they shot these guys.

    • #21
  22. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Any attack on Turkey is an attack on NATO. According to the NATO treaty, the USA is required to defend Turkey from Kurdish attacks. Simple as that.

    • #22
  23. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    Zafar: In a weird way Ataturk made Kurdish nationalism an issue when he decided that Turkey was the nation state of the Turks.

    Really?

    Sounds like you swallowed the neo-Ottomanist Kool-Aid, there. History did not begin and go bad with Atatürk. But for sure, some nasty traditions continued.

    • #23
  24. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @BallDiamondBall

    Zafar:

    Turkey is hardly a NATO ally now, and Erdogan is a symptom, not the disease.

    • #24
  25. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Keep in mind that a fairly large number of Kurds are PKK, and are Marxist-Lenninst. PKK’s early leaders were KGB trained. There’s also a growing Islamist movement within Kurdistan, though more nationalist than other Islamic movements. How “pro-Israel” they really are is open to question as well. That’s a pretty relative thing in the Middle East.

    • #25
  26. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Zafar:

    Turkey is hardly a NATO ally now, and Erdogan is a symptom, not the disease.

    Maybe, but it’s still a NATO member.

    • #26
  27. user_645 Editor
    user_645
    @Claire

    Douglas:Keep in mind that a fairly large number of Kurds are PKK, and are Marxist-Lenninst. PKK’s early leaders were KGB trained. There’s also a growing Islamist movement within Kurdistan, though more nationalist than other Islamic movements. How “pro-Israel” they really are is open to question as well. That’s a pretty relative thing in the Middle East.

    Yep.

    • #27
  28. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Byron Horatio: Unfortunately it was the neocons who passed up on the golden opportunity that was presented to them after Sadaam fell. Ironically, Joe Biden seemed to be the closest when he suggested splitting the country three ways. Since that is inevitably what will happen with the civil war there, it seems like it would have been better to just rip off the bandaid while still there.

    1) Please don’t give Crazy Joe Biden credit for what has been the conventional wisdom for over 50 years.

    2) Foolish as it may have been, the alternative was a 100% guarantee of: (a) a Shiite Iraq being quickly annexed to Iran and turning Iran into an oil superpower in even closer proximity to Gulf Shiite minorities to stir up; (b) a Kurdistan finding itself at odds with all its neighbors; and (c) a Sunni Iraq that’s Afghanistan without the opium.

    • #28
  29. Ross C Member
    Ross C
    @RossC

    ctlaw:

    Byron Horatio: …Joe Biden seemed to be the closest when he suggested splitting the country three ways.

    1) Please don’t give Crazy Joe Biden credit for what has been the conventional wisdom for over 50 years.

    I am going to give Joe Biden two cheers for being realistic.  I do believe that if our US presence was there to stabilize the country, than maybe, just maybe, a nation state could have survived.  But it did not.

    We ended up with a free for all and it is hard to understand how the Iraqi minorities could have been worse off.

    • #29
  30. Byron Horatio Inactive
    Byron Horatio
    @ByronHoratio

    Thanks for weighing in, Claire. I was hoping you might read it. What a delight to have your perspective.

    Well I assure you I’m no fellow traveller with Kurdish Hezbollah. I don’t want to divulge much out of respect to them, but I know some people personally who have volunteered to join the Kurds to fight ISIS. All Jewish as it happens. Their perspective colors my own, thus the bias. Not an Islamist or Marxist among them.

    I have encountered a good number or Iraq vets in the service and their admiration for the Kurdish army was as universal as their contempt for the Iraqi Army.

    I’m not unaware of the less savory elements among the Kurds. And I applaud the demise of the whiskered bomb throwers among them.

    Just a few hours ago, it was announced by the YPG that ISIS had been all but ejected from Kobane after 5 months of siege. In a war with few friends, the Kurds are proving at best reliable allies and at worst the least worst friend to have.

    • #30

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