In a move that has surprised just about everyone, including me, Donald Trump has decided to pull US troops and military aid from Syria. Trump campaigned on the grounds that the USA should be removing its military from places that it gains no benefit from, and on this basis is going ahead with the removal. This is despite the contrary advice of his top military aides and foreign policy advisors. James Mattis and Brett McGurk have resigned over the issue.
Many different opinions have surfaced and will continue to surface in the coming weeks as the situation plays out. Same analysts and journalists who have called themselves anti-war have criticized the move, others that are more pro-war have lambasted the move, fearing that it will lead to a power loss for Israel, Saudi Arabia and the USA in the region.
Some of the most prominent opinions include:
- that the US is handing victory to Iran/Russia/Syria in Syria.
- That IS has not been eradicated, despite the claims by Trump of Victory, and that this withdrawal may lead to a resurgence of the group. (A day after the announcement, there were reports of a huge IS offensive.)
- White House officials have claimed that it will lead to destabilization and endangering of US citizens and allies worldwide.
- The Kurdish population that are allied with the US and under US protection in the north and northeast of the country will come under a two-pronged attack from both Syrian governmental forces and Turkish governmental forces.
It is the last point that concerns me most because the pullout in Syria is reportedly being co-ordinated between Trump and Erdogan of Turkey, in order to ensure that a power vacuum is not left in the place of the US security apparatus.
The Kurds are an ethnic group in the Middle East comprising some 30 million people, of which 15 million live in Turkey. The Kurds make up approximately 1/5 of Turkey’s population and since 1984 the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and some other smaller pro-Kurdish groups and militias have been at war with the Turkish government over their rights and self-determination. The Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran have been struggling to establish and independent Kurdish state. The PKK itself is a product of Marxist ideology and Kurdish nationalism that spread in the region in the 70’s.
The Kurds have been thrown under the bus by the USA government before. During the 70’s, the Kurds organized an insurrection in Iraq against Saddam Hussein on the order of Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon had organized, armed and supplied this insurrection as a favour to the then Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pavlavi. Pavlavi had asked for the insurrection due to his feeling menaced by his Iraqi neighbours.
The border dispute between Iran and Iraq was settled by agreement on March 5, 1975. Iraq then initiated a search and destroy campaign through the Kurdish territories. There was no resistance to Iraqi aggression or protection of the Kurdish peoples from either the US or Iran. The Kurds were devastated in the face of a superior Iraqi governmental security apparatus. Their independence movement in Iraq was thought to be over. Henry Kissinger famously noted on this issue that “covert action should not be confused with missionary work”. A US governmental report has been published that investigated the incident in full.
The Kurds are no stranger to Turkish repression either. During the 1990’s they sustained a campaign of aggression during their war for independence that included torture, starting forest fires, town destruction, air-strikes amongst other egregious acts of war. The Turkish have variably co-operated with Iran in this aggression against the Kurds in their south.
The PKK and Turkey achieved a ceasefire in 2013 that held until 2015. Since then the fighting has resumed though the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan has called for continued peace talks since September 2016. After there was a coup attempt in Turkey in 2016 there has been a crackdown on those suspected of being involved. Erdogan has arrested some 32,000 people in connection with the coup and tightened his grip on power. During this time Erdogan has also increased the frequency of air-strikes against Kurdish targets in Turkey and ISIS targets, despite the Kurds being key fighters of ISIS in Syria.
The expansion and continuation of military operations by the USA and its various coalitions (some including Australia in material roles) throughout the years has been credited with politically and economically destabilizing the region and breeding terror. The gradual removal of USA influence and troops over the region and, ideally, the world to allow for greater local control over systems of governance and establishing institutions should begin to dissipate the resentment that regions of heavy-handed involvement feel toward the USA and the West. This is not limited to the Middle East but also extends to areas of Africa and especially to parts South and Central America.
Whether or not this latest move is an example of the USA allowing another massacre of Kurds remains to be seen. But I wouldn’t put it past Trump to re-engage forces in the area in another similarly surprising policy move, once Erdogan has demoralized the Kurds to his satisfaction.
By Nathan Booth