August 22, 2013

Cold Relations Between Washington And Kurds, Despite Shared Interests


"The Kurdish factor greatly complicates Washington’s already difficult calculations. U.S. leaders do not want to encourage the creation of a separatist Kurdish entity in Syria. Yet the Kurdish population next door in Iraq has been the one consistent, pro-U.S. faction in that unhappy country, and the Syrian Kurds also seem to have a pro-Western orientation. Moreover, several of the victories that the Kurdish militias have scored have taken place against the Al Nusra Front and other militant Islamist factions. By opposing Kurdish secessionism in Syria, the U.S. may find itself weakening an ally that is successfully combatting America’s own terrorist enemies.

These latest developments underscore the folly of Washington’s entanglement in Middle Eastern affairs. No matter what policy the Obama administration adopts, it is bound to antagonize one or more factions involved in the Syrian struggle. If Washington tilts toward the Kurds, it helps fracture Syria, with all the attendant implications for instability in that country and the surrounding region. Such a policy would also alienate Turkey, a NATO ally and a crucial regional power. Washington’s relations with that country have been prickly enough in recent years without adding another grievance to the mix.

Conversely, if the Obama administration continues to oppose the Kurdish agenda in Syria, it weakens an effective adversary of Al Qaeda and its affiliates. Such a move would also anger the KRG in Iraq, damaging Washington’s relations with the one region in that country that has been stable, pro-American, and generally democratic. As Iraq’s central government in Baghdad drifts ever more noticeably toward authoritarian rule, sectarian violence, and a pro-Iranian stance, undermining the KRG might not be the smartest strategy." - Ted Galen Carpenter, "Syria's Kurds Take the Offensive" The National Interest, August 22, 2013.

"The Kurds share America's fear of Islamic extremism in Syria and of the impact of radical Syrian Sunni ascendancy on the restive Sunni community in Iraq. They have taken in tens of thousands of refugees from Syria, have clashed militarily with Syrian Islamists, and have armed Syrian Kurds opposed to Bashar Assad. Yet none of this has made the Kurds any more welcome in the Obama administration's corridors of power.

It is indeed puzzling that the administration has turned its back on this doughty people. Washington's support for the increasingly dictatorial Maliki makes little sense. He has backed Assad in Syria, and has positioned his country squarely within Tehran's orbit. It is not clear that he views the United States as much more than a source of arms.

The Kurds have long experience with great-power betrayal. Washington's indifference is just the latest manifestation. Prudence may dictate that Kurdistan not seek independence. At the same time, however, the Kurds are determined never to let any foreign power, including their neighbors to the south, dominate their land again." - Dov S. Zakheim, "Cozy Up to the Kurds" The National Interest, March 13, 2013.

"Not all that much has changed in 2,400 years. The Carduchi may well have been what we now call Kurds, an Indo-European people, speaking a language akin to Persian, who first occupied the Zagros and Taurus ranges in the second millennium B.C. The Kurds are among history's greatest warriors: Saladin, the Muslim general who repossessed Jerusalem and much of the Holy Land from the Crusaders, was a Kurd. Their bows and slings have long since been replaced by Soviet-made AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Perched on isolated slopes, amid oak and mountain ash, Kurdish guerrillas known as pesh mergas ("those who are prepared to die") have in recent years wiped out whole units of Turkish and Iraqi soldiers and Iranian revolutionary guards. True to their past, the Kurds are a law unto themselves." - Robert D. Kaplan, "Sons of Devils" The Atlantic, November 1, 1987.