Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, University of Tokyo.
The Kurds have been haunted by famous sayings “Kurds have No Friends but the Mountains”. We are watching another act of the same play again. In the middle of the Sunday night of October 6, the White House suddenly announced that it would withdraw US troops from northeastern Syria and would not hinder Turkish invasion. Turkish military began large scale incursion into northeastern Syria on October 9.
Betrayal and abandonment are neither unusual nor surprising in the US foreign policy. What is outstanding in these days is the President Trump’s style of decision and how to present it.
When the Kurds in north of Iraq forcibly proceeded to the independence referendum on September 25, 2017, it led to a military conflict with Iraqi central government. The US abandoned the Kurds, acquiescing to takeover of Kirkuk by Iraqi military forces.
It was foretold that the same thing may happen in the Syrian theater. If the US are forced to choose between a NATO ally Turkey and anti-ISIS ally Kurds, obvious choice is Turkey, however strained their relationship has been.
President Trump’s decision sparked an uproar in the US Congress. Analysts, lobbyists and former officials in charge of this issue are uniformly opposed to it. But we might suspect it is Kabuki-play to put the onus on the president for the inevitable change of the US policy.
This change has been initiated in the Obama administration and Mr. Trump, however acrimonious to Obama, carried on the basic policy direction of pulling US forces out of the Middle East in the earliest possible stage.
It may even seem that Mr. Trump’s seemingly distracted process of decision making and the rude manner of expressing it is a way to disguise the ultimate desire for withdrawal felt by the entire US nation, not only by Mr. Trump himself.
Usual or occasional backers of Kurdish cause, such as Israel and Russia, seem not so surprised.
Kurds may run to the Assad regime for cover, but Turkish authority also must have expected this move. Once consolidated a narrow slip of the “safe zone” along the border which it has been advocating for more than five years, Turkey may use the destiny of Kurds as a bargaining chip in its negotiation with the Assad regime. In the long run, Turkish offensive may help Assad regime to reclaim larger part of its territory with Turkish collusion.
The Kurdish houses of cards have been built upon the Arab Uprising’s turmoil and with the settlement of the upheaval of each country, those houses are shut down one by one.