Accepting a Kurdish Alliance

In the welter of factions and militias and ethno-religious groups involved in the violence in Syria and Iraq that’s now become a military as well as a diplomatic problem for the United States, the Kurds appear here and there as victims, proto-allies, and most of all as a problem–a problem for Baghdad and Ankara, mostly, and thus a problem for the State Department.

At Ten Miles Square today, Jonathan Dworkin, a physician and medical researcher who’s worked in and written about Kurdistan extensively, argues that fear and hesitancy about accepting an alliance with Kurds has severely hampered U.S. policy in the region, and needs to change, as it appears may be happening right now, if not as decisively as it might.

The obvious discomfort this administration has with supporting Kurdish autonomy is badly outmoded. It no longer makes any sense to weld ourselves to “unity” policies in Iraq and Syria. As the military has found it’s like trying to box on quicksand. Support for Kurdish rights offers a far firmer footing on the ground, and it has the advantage of reflecting American values better than our current deference to Turkish and Arab ethnic chauvinism.

The Kurdish resistance to ISIS in Syria and Iraq has forced us to shift our military plan, and it should prompt us to reassess our diplomatic and economic approach as well. We should drop our self-defeating opposition to Kurds selling oil. We should welcome their students and diplomats. We should include them as full partners in post-war planning, not try to suppress them by incorporating them into larger and less competent groups. We should encourage in every way their strength, prosperity, and independence.

If there’s to be any chance of a tolerant government in any part of Syria or Iraq, a strong Kurdish community will be a major part of it. That is true regardless of whether or not Kurds ultimately opt for independence. The president has been slow to understand this, and he has allowed events to push him into a reluctant and partial partnership with the Kurds. But until he embraces Kurds more fully the consequence is another American war without reliable partners, a realistic objective, or much chance of a humane outcome.

Read the whole thing, particularly if you’ve despaired of finding any clear moral path through the chaos of Syria and Iraq.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.