Oct 14, 2019
On Sunday, October 6, the White House announced that Donald Trump had given his endorsement for a Turkish military invasion of northeastern Syria. The 50 to 100 U.S. troops who had served as a trip wire along the border were quickly pulled back and relocated to bases deeper in Syria. Within days, the Turkish military invaded northern Syria. Syria, which had already been torn apart by eight years of bloody and destructive civil war, was descending into a new stage of that war—apparently with Trump’s blessings.
Trump was immediately attacked, not only by the Democrats, but by many of his most ardent supporters in the Republican Party.
After all, the Turkish military had just attacked the U.S. military’s most loyal and effective ally in the Syrian civil war—the 60,000 troops of the Kurdish militia, called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). For five years the Kurdish militia had taken on and methodically defeated ISIS fighters, with U.S. air support, along with some Special Forces and ground troops. In October 2017, the Kurds, with U.S. support, drove ISIS from the city of Raqqa, the ISIS capital in Syria. Finally, in March 2019, the Kurds, aided by U.S. bombs, routed ISIS in Baghuz from its last major holdout.
In return for this vital support, the U.S. government had promised to support the Kurds in their effort to build up their own autonomous region in northeastern Syria.
The 30 million Kurds in the Middle East have no homeland. Instead, they are spread out over four countries, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. They often suffer great oppression, especially in Turkey, where 17 million Kurds live. The Turkish government made clear that it would not tolerate an autonomous Kurdish region along its border with Syria, since it could be an encouragement and aid for the Kurds within its own borders to rebel.
The dilemma for U.S. policymakers is that the U.S. is allied with both the Turkish government and the Syrian Kurds. As long as the U.S. military needed the Kurds to help defeat ISIS, the U.S. government held the Turkish government off from invading and occupying the Kurdish part of Syria.
However, once the Kurds had defeated ISIS in its last stronghold in March, U.S. imperialism tilted toward the demands of the Turkish government, which is a much bigger and more strategic ally that also happens to be a key member of NATO.
The Turkish government says that it launched its military operation in Kurdish-controlled territory in order to create a “safe zone” along its border, 20 miles deep and 300 miles wide. It then intends to settle at least one million of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees who are now living in camps inside Turkey.
But in just its first few days, the Turkish invasion forced 100,000 Kurds to flee south, adding to a refugee crisis that has displaced more than half the Syrian population of 22 million people.
This current betrayal of the Kurds by the U.S. government is not new. In February 1991, during the Persian Gulf War, in which the U.S. and key allies attacked Iraq, President George Bush urged the Iraqi people, “to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.”
After Bush halted military operations in the Persian Gulf two weeks later and a big part of Hussein’s military surrendered, Iraqi Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north took Bush at his word and launched a rebellion against Hussein, gaining control of a number of Iraqi cities and towns.
Then the Bush administration reversed course. Fearing that a successful rebellion in Iraq might destabilize the explosive Middle East region, it turned around and helped Hussein to quell the uprising. They returned Hussein’s army to him, as well as helicopters and other heavy weaponry, which Hussein used to drown the rebellion of the Kurds and Shiites in Iraq in blood.
In the Middle East, in order to impose its domination, U.S. imperialism divides and plays off the populations and ethnic groups against each other, thus creating a series of unending wars that feed into each other.