4 years ago
As usual, Walter Russell Meade astutely notes the emerging Kurdish state in northeastern Syria:
Syria’s Kurds once waged a fruitless struggle with Damascus against discrimination and for basic rights like citizenship and official recognition of a distinct Kurdish language and culture. Now, however, the equation has changed, and large chunks of northeastern Syria are now under the sole control of the Kurds.
Back in July, Butcher Assad ceded the responsibility of governing and maintaining law and order in northeastern Syria to Kurdish leaders. In return they would keep out of the uprising. Syrian Kurdish leaders have taken this responsibility and run with it.
Of particular value is the accompanying map:
This illustrates the haphazard nature of current national boundaries in the Middle East, the result of post-World War I deals by the British and French. Much of the conflict in the Middle East results from the incoherence of diverse ethnic groups arbitrarily compressed into a nation state. As the Middle East continues to snowball into chaos and war, it may be that more sensible states will necessarily emerge.
Interestingly, Meade appears worried about the emergence (or re-emergence) of Kurdish nationalism in Syria and elsewhere, but from the viewpoint of U.S. national interests, the Kurds seem to be a natural ally of the U.S. in a critical part of the world where such allies are few and far between.
The Kurds are a distinct people group from the Arabs, Persians and Turks. The Kurds in northern Iraq are one of the most pro-American populations in the entire Middle East and yet the Obama Administration has left them with little tangible support. Syria presents an opportunity for the U.S. to establish a Kurdish enclave that can be a lever against an increasingly Islamist Turkey, as well as Iran, Iraq and whatever state emerges in the remainder of Syria.
The Kurds present an opportunity for the U.S. in Iraq as well. After kicking ourselves out of Iraq last year, a new Romney Administration might take advantage of the autonomy of Kurds in Iraq to expand U.S. influence and presence there. Iraq appears to be headed towards another civil war as the Shiite leadership in Baghdad increasingly excludes the Sunnis. The U.S. could have a significant influence, through Iraqi Kurds, in curbing the excesses of the Shiite government or, failing that, to buttress the security and integrity of the Kudish region against pressure from the Baghdad government or Iran.
This is the kind of statecraft that the U.S. has seemingly forgotten. We do not need infantry battalions on the ground nor billions of dollars in foreign aid to influence the direction of events in the Middle East. The U.S. first needs to prove itself reliable as an ally (something that has suffered enormously under Obama). Next, the U.S. must show the unique value it brings to vulnerable peoples like the Kurds: expertise and training; economic development through private industry and trade; an unmatched (for now) diplomatic, military and humanitarian muscle available in times of need. Like the Israelis, the Kurds have shown themselves to be fierce, independent, industrious, loyal and willing. These are basic qualities necessary in an ally. (Which is, perhaps, why, after 11 years, Afghanistan cannot be called an ally in any true sense of the word).