As an American and as a Jew who has wondered throughout my life how the world could have turned their backs on us during World War II, I am horrified that the United States is once again turning our backs on our friends and allies, the Kurds.
The withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria constitutes an almost irredeemable black mark on American foreign policy. There are over 11,000 graves filled with the bodies of Kurds who made the ultimate sacrifice in fighting side-by-side with us against ISIS. (Contrast this to the 15 US service men who, also unfortunately lost their lives in that fight).
I have more than a casual interest in this. Since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, I have been on Capitol Hill with my Kurdish friends, asking for support of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Up until this week, they had control of what had been an independent Kurdish region in northeastern Syria. This had been a model of democracy and pluralism, and a place of relative safety and stability within war-torn Syria, where their doors were open to Assyriac Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities.
The female Co-President of this region was Ilhan Ahmed, a woman who shares my towering stature of about 5 feet, but a giant in strength and as tough as nails. I have not been able to get in touch with her recently, and I shudder to think what has now become of her.
The truth is that Ilhan, along with many of the Kurds, is a valiant fighter. They had been on the front lines and had done much of the heavy lifting for us in the fight against ISIS, while the United States has taken much of the credit.
Yet, after a phone call with President Erdogan, President Trump immediately declared “Victory over ISIS,” and made an impulsive decision, communicated via tweet, to withdraw our troops, leaving the Kurds to their own devices.
This constitutes a profound betrayal of our comrades-in arms, the Kurds, making it infinitely more difficult for anyone to trust us and support us in battle for many years to come. And as an American serviceman who was recently quoted in the New York Times, said, “They trusted us and we broke their trust. It’s a stain on the American conscience.”
There was no phased withdrawal: no “no-fly zone” to give them cover; no weapons passed into their hands. Anyone watching could predict an inevitable harsh battle and possibly a genocide by Turkey, which considers all of the Kurds “terrorists”.
Turkey has the second largest standing force in NATO after the United States and is ranked 9th out of 137 nations in military strength by GlobalFirePower.com.
ISIS is a radical, regnant ideology. They might have temporarily been down, but they are not out. You can be certain that they will take this American withdrawal as a victory. There are 13,000 ISIS fighters in Syria, including 12,000 wives and children. We can be sure that their radical and primitive ideology and dastardly behavior will continue with them.
The Kurds could not possibly be expected to guard the prisons of ISIS fighters while they are battling for their lives against Turkey. There are over 12,000 ISIS fighters in Kurdish prisons. Many of these are from Europe as some from the United States, and they will be coming back to haunt us, creating a huge destabilizing refugee problem and the potential of many more terrorist attacks throughout the world.
The foreign policy implications are immense. This is neither playing checkers or chess, but more akin to throwing over the entire game board. It undoubtedly destabilizes the region and makes not only the region, but the entire world exponentially more dangerous. It has empowered Erdogan who has allied himself with Hamas, as well as empowering the constellation of the Iranian mullahs, Putin’s Russia and Bashir Assad of Syria.
The Kurds, together with the US forces, had constituted a roadblock in the Shiite land bridge stretching from Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut. Now, this opens up the door for the hegemonic aspirations of the Iranians, together with their patrons Assad and Putin.
And of course the Kurds who cannot be expected to defend themselves against the Turks, have run to Assad for protection. We now have these valiant fighters working for the other side, bitter and angry at the United States. What good could possibly come out of that?
Turkey and Iran are now at play as to who controls Syria and anything that destabilizes the region, makes it that much more dangerous for Israel. And Putin s the Grand Master, here, laughing at us from his “osobnyak” (mansion) in Moscow.
It also has proven to the Israelis, once again, that ultimately, in that very dangerous region of the world, they have no-one to depend upon but themselves. Yes, President Trump has done some wonderful things or Israel, including withdrawing from the flawed Iranian nuclear deal, moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and it is hard not to deeply appreciate that.
However, this one impetuous move destabilizes the entire region and will have national security implications for generations to come.
We know that presidents come and go, and not every American candidate for president will harbor such warm feelings for the state of Israel. Yes, many Americans can grow weary of “fighting endless wars in the Middle East.” But, as Golda Meir once said, “Israel has no place else to go.”
And I would rather fight a small battle now, then a large war, later.
I used to believe that we in the United States, have evolved as a nation since the dark days of the Holocaust, and that there is now some synergy between American foreign policy and what is moral and what is right.
But lately, I have begun to question that belief.
Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, DC