U.S. Abandons Kurd Allies
Barry Nussbaum: Welcome to ATP Report. I'm Barry Nussbaum. Let's start with the news. Turkish troops have invaded northern Syria. They have ignored the deal struck over the last several weeks with the United States not to enter new areas in Syria, not to bomb military Kurdish targets, not to ethnically cleanse Kurds and their families out of those northern Syrian neighborhoods, not to bomb civilians, not to cause the release of the ISIS prisoners. And yet they've done it anyway. The U.S. is now retaliating with massive economic sanctions against Turkey. Weapons sales are being canceled by the United States, and trade deals are being canceled by the E.U. Now Turkey is sitting on apparently 50 U.S. nuclear bombs on various bases in Turkey, and they could be held as ransom against the United States. Last week at the Pentagon briefing, the United States secretary of defense expressed U.S. policy, quote, "We are deeply disappointed by the Turkish military incursion into Syria. We are not abandoning our Kurdish forces allies, and the Syrian democratic forces are still our allies who helped defeat ISIS." The chairman of the Joint Chiefs said, quote, "We are still co-located with our allied troops, and we have only withdrawn from two small border areas." The Turkish invasion so far is limited, but airstrikes, tanks, and artillery invasion so far are up to 10 kilometers. Both sides of the aisles in Congress are lining up with the Kurds and showing their displeasure. Even President Trump's strong allies, like Lindsey Graham, says, "Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump administration." And Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, who said, quote, "As we learned the hard way during the Obama administration, American interests are best served by American leadership, not by retreat or withdrawal." And those are two Trump allies. Joining me today is the Vice President at the Center for Security Policy. She's a Middle East expert of longstanding and an ATP contributor. Welcome, Clare Lopez.
Clare Lopez: Thank you, Barry. I'm very glad to be with you once again. Thanks for having me.
Barry Nussbaum: Great to have you back. We were talking about the encyclopedia, also known as Clare Lopez. So, let's start getting some of that information beginning with Clare, who are the Kurds?
Clare Lopez: Well, I think that's a good place to start to understand who these people are. The Kurds are very ancient people. They have a distinct history, a language, a culture, and a sense of nationhood. But they have been repeatedly denied the opportunity to have a nation-state of their own. Going back at least one hundred years to the last century after the end of World War One, when with the defeat of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, the British and the French came to be the powerbrokers of the entire region and sat down with maps and pencils and started drawing lines, creating, for example, new countries where none had ever been. There never was a Jordan, there never was an Iraq, there never was a Syria, there was something called al-Sham or Greater Syria, but there wasn't a Syria as we have it today. And at that time, it fell to the British and the French to decide about the Kurds. And as has been the case repeatedly, they betrayed them and deliberately split up their population among four different nation-states, some of which, as I just said, was just created out of whole cloth on the maps. And so today, since that time, there is a presence of a Kurdish population in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. And that's absolutely deliberate to keep them divided and from forming a nation-state of their own. So that in addition to the sense of betrayal, that that they obviously feel from multiple sides of great powers over the years, you have their own fractiousness within their own ranks, if you will. It's an alphabet soup of groups that I actually need to have a little cheat sheet of my own to keep track of all that alphabet soup and which is which. But the point is that they have fought each other probably just as much as anybody else over the last century. So, all of that aside, though, this is a unique and a different and a distinct people. They consider themselves a nation of people. And that's who the Kurds. I will just add one more thing. They are primarily Sunni Muslims, although there are others, including even Christians among their ranks.
Barry Nussbaum: Clare I couldn't agree more. Now the question is, are the Kurds the good guys?
Clare Lopez: That's a complicated question. I mean, are any people all good guys? No, they're not. And people like the Yazidis minorities among Christians even in the area have plenty of complaints about the way they have been treated by the Kurds. But what I will say is that over the most recent decades the Kurds have been, after the Israelis, the most pro-western, pro-United states group of people in the middle east. And I think it's foolish to cast them aside when there isn't just a whole lot to choose from. Again, the Israeli people aside, the Israeli state aside, the rest of them not a whole bunch left that are so unabashedly pro-west, pro-American despite yes, some very serious flaws in the way that they have treated Jewish people in the past as well, treated Christians even, treated Yazidis, that is true. Some of this alphabet soup on my little cheat sheet here some of them include groups like the PKK, which is the Kurdistan Workers Party originally founded several decades ago as a Marxist group that has undoubtedly committed terrorism, acts of terrorism against Turkey. They haven't done that recently, and obviously, are no longer Marxist. I would recommend people take a look at a piece that Michael Rubin wrote earlier that year in January 2019 exactly about this point. It's too much to go into now, but it's a mixed bag sure. The Kurds are a mixed bag. But, in the most recent past, these last eight years of the civil war in what used to be called Syria the Kurds fought the hardest and the most effectively I would say against the Islamic State originally called ISIS. It's not that anymore of course, but Islamic State. And I would point to another new article that just came out today by Cliff May at FDD the Federation for the Defense of Democracy and he makes the very good point that for the very small number of American troops, special operations forces that were posted to these areas to fight alongside the Kurds against the Islamic State essentially our guys were providing more support in terms of financial support and logistics support and intelligence support than they were actual fighting capability given their numbers and it was the Kurds that actually did most of the fighting and the dying and that turned out to be as Cliff explains it a very good arrangement where we get more bang for the buck for the number of troops we had there, fewer than a thousand overall alongside the Kurds who actually did the fighting and the dying and lost thousands killed. That's troops or fighters but also civilians too. That was a pretty good deal. In addition to our forces were not just there for the benefit of the Kurds. Yes, we were there to get rid of the Islamic State caliphate, which we kind of sort of accomplished but not entirely because it's coming right back again, especially now. But those few troops that we had there were also doing things like preventing the Islamic Republic of Iran from establishing their desired land corridor to the Mediterranean or Shia Crescent as it's sometimes called in the area. Our presence also at least to some extent I think held the genocidal dictator, ruler of Damascus Bashar al Assad somewhat in check. And also, I think it allowed us and gave us a position from which to deal with Russian president Vladimir Putin. So, for fewer than a thousand troops, we did all of that, and it wasn't just about the Kurds by a long shot.
Barry Nussbaum: Thanks, Clare. And thank you for joining us today on ATP Report. I would encourage all of you to text the word TRUTH to 88202. You'll be automatically signed up to get all of our ATP Reports like the one today. All of our articles from all of our contributors. And it's always free. Again, for ATP Report, I'm Barry Nussbaum.