If you’ve missed the flurry of terrible news in northern Syria in the past week, here’s the broad outline:
1. Because Trump loves dictators and has financial interests in Turkey, he made the tragic, disastrous choice to “endorse” a Turkish military operation against the Kurds in northeast Syria.
2. These Kurdish fighters, part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, were crucial in helping the U.S. and its allies root out ISIS in Syria. A contingent of American troops in the area protected them from invading forces like Turkey, both by military power and just the simple fact of their presence, which prevented either Assad (Syria) or Erdogan (Turkey) from mounting an attack.
3. Against the advice of the Pentagon, and to the rage of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, Trump removed those troops, and Erdogan’s Turkish army and its mercenary factions—which consider the Kurds terrorists—immediately began aerial bombardments and soon invaded. It resulted in the death of Kurdish soldiers and civilians (including the alleged execution of an unarmed female politician) and the estimated displacement (already) of 200,000 people.
4. Predictably, ISIS appears to be emboldened as stability crumbles in the region.
Now, incredibly, there appears to be a new alliance developing, and it’s between the Kurdish SDF (and its YPG militia) and the Syrian forces of Bashar al-Assad. Per the Times:
Embittered at their abandonment by their American allies, Kurdish leaders moved to secure a new partner: the government of Bashar al-Assad, an avowed foe of the United States.
Late Sunday, the Syrian Democratic Forces, said they had struck a deal with the Assad government that would allow government forces to enter the Kurdish-controlled northeast of Syria for the first time in years. The commander of the S.D.F. wrote an article for Foreign Policy that explained the reasoning behind the deal.
In that article, titled “If We Have to Choose Between Compromise and Genocide, We Will Choose Our People,” Mazloum Abdi writes that, “We are now standing with our chests bare to face the Turkish knives.”
In other words, he had no choice. The relationship between Assad and the Kurds has been uneasy, at best, but for Mazloum and the SDF, it beats certain death and annihilation at the hands of their centuries-long enemy, the Turks. He spoke of his hesitation and mistrust concerning Syria and, of course, Russia, but he finds himself backed into a corner:
We know that we would have to make painful compromises with Moscow and Bashar al-Assad if we go down the road of working with them. But if we have to choose between compromises and the genocide of our people, we will surely choose life for our people.
He ends with a question: Is the United States still our ally?
In the Times article, several U.S. military personnel are quoted on the recent move to abandon the Kurds, and they don’t mince words:
“The worst thing in military logic and comrades in the trench is betrayal,” said one official allied with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
Some American military members who had worked closely with the Kurdish militia were also appalled.
“They trusted us and we broke that trust,” said one Army officer who has worked alongside the Kurds in northern Syria. “It’s a stain on the American conscience.”
If Trump doesn’t reverse his position—and why would he, when he doesn’t seem to care about our former allies and only wants to keep relations with Turkey strong for his own selfish interests?—then the Kurds will be driven into the arms of Syria and Russia, and our influence will wane. Meanwhile, our opposition in Europe grows, as the EU agreed to ban arms sales to Turkey. Maybe this shift is what we deserve, but the Kurds are right to mistrust Assad’s motives, and it’s certainly not what they deserve.