You don’t turn your back on friends
By Hannah McLeod • Guest Columnist
The raid that led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was possible because of our military presence (the brave men and women who serve), allies in the region and intelligence agencies. The president of the respected Council on Foreign Relations said on Sunday, “The irony of the successful operation against al-Baghdadi is that it could not have happened without U.S. forces on the ground that have been pulled out, help from Syrian Kurds who have been betrayed, and support of a U.S. intelligence community that has so often been disparaged.” It is true that Donald Trump has pulled troops from Syria in a hasty decision that occurred without forethought, abandoned our Kurdish allies, and regularly criticizes and undermines the work of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Trump often criticizes these agencies as part of his “deep state” conspiracy.
The U.S. has a tumultuous history with the Kurdish people, our primary allies in the fight against ISIS. The Kurds live in a region comprising northern Syria, southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, and northwestern Iran. They are an ancient people without a nation of their own. Following the end of World War I, the Treaty of Sevres dissolved the Ottoman Empire and, among other newly drawn borders, included the creation of an independent Kurdish state. Then ruler of the newly created Turkey, Mustafa Kemal, rejected this plan and a new version of the treaty, the Treaty of Lausanne, negotiated between Allied governments and Turkey, made no mention of a Kurdish state or the Kurdish people. Since that time there were multiple attempts at autonomous government by the Kurdish people, rebellions within their prospective governments, infighting among political parties, and even a genocide carried out by Saddam Hussein against Iraqi Kurds in 1988. Estimates range from 50,000 to 180,000 dead.
With the start of the civil war in Syria, Syrian Kurds declared an autonomous region in the North. From there Kurdish fighters have been one of our most important allies in the fight against ISIS. However, without the capabilities of a full-fledged state they also relied on protection and support from U.S. troops in the region. Protection especially from Turkey, a large and powerful state with hostile attitudes toward its own Kurdish minority. So when Donald Trump rashly decided to remove troops from the area in Northern Syria the effects were, and will continue to be, very costly.
The inclination to get our troops out of the Middle East is more than understandable. We have lost far too many lives in combat due to conflict that it seems could have been avoided by the decisions of many U.S. leaders over the past 40 years. It often seems we have caused more havoc in the region than we have helped, and at the cost of young American lives. But this is where we are now, and abandoning our allies in the region is not the way to go out. Allowing Turkey to press into northern Syria under the guise of securing its border against the autonomous Kurdish region means that Syrian Kurds had to turn to the government of Bashar al-Assad for help in defense. The same man who waged war against his own people in the form of civil war for over six years now. In the ensuing chaos of Turkish encroachment, several hundred ISIS prisoners — some people previously living in the caliphate — escaped prisons in the autonomous Kurdish region.
What’s more, the Assad government is propped up by Russia and Iran. Both governments are known for their corruption and disregard for human rights. Diminishing our presence now means we are unlikely to have any influence in the political outcome of the conflict and won’t be there to stand up for the rights of those that are sure to be overlooked by these governments. So while many Americans rightly think we should project less of a military presence around the world, putting fewer of our fighters in harm’s way, we should still be a nation our allies can depend on, and we should stand up for human rights around the world.
Unfortunately, the foreign policy decisions of Trump and his administration are diminishing our ability to combat terrorism in the Middle East and the likelihood of more missions like that which killed al-Baghdadi. Perhaps more importantly, these decisions have left the Kurdish people abandoned, many dead, and our enemies emboldened.