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The Kurdish solution that Trump won't dare contemplate

The Week logo The Week 4 days ago Shikha Dalmia
a group of people standing in front of a truck: U.S. forces in Syria. © Illustrated | DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images, Svetlana Apukhtina/iStock U.S. forces in Syria.

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Kurds have been staunch allies in America's struggle against ISIS. Without them, America would have paid a far steeper price in blood and treasure to defeat the brutal outfit. That's why President Trump's move to pull U.S. troops out of northeastern Syria and let Turkey move in and slaughter the Kurds there is being greeted with widespread revulsion.

Trump has cut a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he will hand over control of this region to Turkey so long as Turkey relieves America of the responsibility of taking care of captured ISIS soldiers and their families. However, Trump is trying to reassure everyone that he will "destroy" and "obliterate" Turkey's economy if it treats the Kurds "inhumanely."

His threats would be more believable if he himself treated the Kurds humanely by opening America's doors to more of them. Instead he's been cold-bloodedly deporting those already in the United Sates.

That Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would condemn Trump's Syria decision was a foregone conclusion. But what is interesting is that with the exception of Kentucky's Sen. Rand Paul, even Trump's staunch Republican loyalists are voicing their disgust.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), an enthusiastic Trump cheerleader for the last two years, called the Syria decision "unnerving to the core" and a "disaster in the making." Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump's former UN ambassador Nikki Haley have likewise expressed strong opposition. Most surprising, however, is televangelist Pat Robertson. He convinced his vast evangelical following to ignore Trump's serial adultery and vote for him because he was "God's man for this job." Yet he is now warning Trump that he risks "losing the mandate from heaven" if he abandons the Kurds.

America has a long history of betraying the Kurds, who are non-Arab Sunni Muslims. Henry Kissinger notoriously said, as I have pointed out before, "Promise Kurds anything, give them what they get, and f--- them if they can't take a joke."

So what's different this time?

Essentially, there is an acute awareness that without Kurdish assistance, many more Americans would have died in the struggle against ISIS. The Kurds offered not only crucial intelligence to guide America's offensive but also performed the lion's share of the ground combat.

The upshot is that while America lost 11 soldiers in the last five years in Iraq and Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the American-led alliance against ISIS, lost 11,000, the vast majority Kurds. By contrast, during the Iraq war when America did not have local allies and had to rely on its own soldiers to conduct complex and costly urban military operations, it suffered 700 casualties, including 82 deaths, during just a single battle in Fallujah, points out Iraq war veteran and conservative commentator David French.

Letting Turkey slaughter the Kurds after they put themselves on the line for what was essentially America's fight is beyond heinous. And slaughter them Turkey will as it begins its offensive, notwithstanding its bogus talk of honoring the "20-mile safe zone" that was created for civilian Kurds after Trump first considered a U.S. pullout in January.

Turkey fears that if Syrian Kurds are allowed to consolidate their hold in northeastern Syria next to the Turkish border, they will join forces with Turkish Kurds that have long wanted to secede from Turkey and form their own separate homeland. In fact, Turkey considers the Syrian Kurds an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for three decades.

Given this backdrop, there is no way Erdogan will leave the Syrian Kurds alone, no matter how many blustery threats Trump issues via Twitter. In the last three years, Turkey has tried twice to purge the Kurds from northeastern Syria. In the last operation — ironically named Operation Olive Branch — Turkish forces slaughtered 1,500 Kurdish militiamen along with 300 civilians in just eight weeks, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group.

There are already signs that this time is going to be no different. Erdogan has baldly declared that he plans to target Kurdish fighters along with ISIS extremists. As far as he is concerned, both groups are terrorists. Reports are filtering in that Turkish warplanes are already pounding civilian Kurdish areas instead of sparing them.

The only way to safeguard the Kurds from Turkey is for America to offer them a quick way out and arrange their evacuation. There are less than 1 million Kurds in SDF-controlled Syria. America alone could absorb them without breaking a sweat.

Of course, that will require Trump to lift his "Muslim" travel ban and also revive America's near-dead refugee program. Syria is among the countries — all of them Muslim except for two — from which potential immigrants have been totally banned for the last two years. Meanwhile, even though Iraq is not on that list, the Trump administration has been deporting many Kurdish Iraqis back to that country to face almost certain death. In fact, one of Trump's first immigration crackdowns after assuming office was in Nashville, Tennessee's Little Kurdistan, where many Iraqi Kurds have long lived. It was timed to coincide with the week of Ramadan, the holiest celebration in Islam.

Trump is justifying his Syria pullout by insisting that he doesn't want America to remain embroiled in "endless war." That would be a worthy goal if Trump weren't using allies that have sacrificed so much for America as America's sacrificial lambs now. The Kurds deserve better.

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