Inside the US, Turkey, Kurdish triangle


Turkey is a longstanding U.S. ally with very legitimate Kurdish counterterrorism concerns. But since at least 2003, the U.S. alliance with the Kurds has also been critical. This informs a complicated but critical U.S. balancing act between the two sides.

President Trump slashed that balance on Monday by pulling the U.S. military out of northern Syria. It’s a grievous decision that will enable Turkey’s slaughter of innocent civilians, energize Kurdistan Workers’ Party terrorism, and endanger American security. To best understand this situation we must first consider the U.S.-Turkey-Kurdish relationship.
Let’s start with the U.S.-Kurdish relationship.

Until today, the alliance was situated in aligned interests and values. But this relationship wasn’t built on the strongest foundation. It suffered tremendously from President George H.W. Bush’s 1991 decision to abandon Iraqi Kurds to Saddam Hussein. Following the Gulf War, and motivated by American condemnations of Hussein, Kurds rose up to challenge him. But in the absence of sufficient American military and diplomatic opposition, Hussein used chemical weapons and other means of atrocity to pummel the Kurds into submission. America was rightly seen as having betrayed those it had pushed to rise up against Hussein.

In 2003, again at war with Hussein, the United States needed the Kurds’ support to confront Iraq’s northern flank. During the post-war period, the Kurds offered relative political stability and an anchor point against the violence afflicting most of the country. Supportive of women’s rights, basic democratic norms, and possessing of pro-American attitudes, the Kurds were America’s most natural ally in Iraq. With the arrival of ISIS in 2013, the Kurds would again offer a battle-hardened ally with which to resist the terrorist group’s advance and then gradually turn it back.

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