March 26, 2019

The Impossible Position of the Kurds

“They always anticipated U.S. support would run out, but President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to rapidly pull U.S. forces out of northeast Syria has nevertheless stunned the Kurds there, who for the past three years have been America’s partner in fighting the Islamic State group.

A withdrawal will leave Syrian Kurds exposed to Turkish threats of an invasion from one side and Syrian government troops on the other.

It stung even more because the Kurds in the Middle East have been abandoned before by the United States and other international allies on whose support they’d pinned their aspirations.

What happens next is uncertain because of confusion in the U.S. plans. Initially, Trump declared the pullout of the 2,000 American troops would happen “now,” but White House officials have since suggested it would not be immediate. Further muddling the policy, Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, on a visit Monday, tried to win assurances from Turkey that Ankara would not harm the Kurds but was apparently snubbed.

Over the past century, Kurds have gotten close to setting up their own state or autonomous regions on several occasions, only to have their dreams shattered after being abandoned by world powers. An old Kurdish proverb reflects a history of disappointments: “We have no friends but the mountains.””

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