As reports come in on the Turkish attack on Kurdish positions in northern Syria, the armchair debate in Washington — mind, not the country, be grateful for that — proceeds apace: our war or not our war? Or even if not our war, should we help the beleaguered Serbs — excuse me, I meant Kurds? And how can we?
The president is exercising forceful leadership by threatening the Turks to punish them with sanctions and what-all, while advising the Kurds to get whatever help they can, from the Syrians, the Russians, even Napoleon Bonaparte, though the latter’s experience in the Middle East ended badly.
One thing you can say about this administration: it is not failing more grotesquely, in this part of the world, than others before it. So there is something to be said for telling the interested parties that we are disinterested and, sorry fellas, we gave it the old college try and you still messed up. And can the Turks really do more damage than you did to yourselves?
There’s been rumors of war and wars that have been.
Looking at the big picture, the president deserves credit for shaking up the foreign policy agenda, which while founded on sound enough principles in the late 1940s, with mixed results — as one must expect in foreign affairs — has been on some kind of autopilot, or rather no-pilot, since 1991.
That was when G. H. W. Bush encouraged the Kurds to liberate themselves from the tyrant of Baghdad and then left them to their own devices as he poured yellow rain on them, notwithstanding we could have — I am no general, I cannot know this was the right tactic, but just saying — wiped him off the face of Mesopotamia, the Earth for that matter.
Politics, a self-described expert in these very pages says, politics. Well, that is useful to know. It is fine to have a discussion of issues of the day in these pages, because we do not want a herd instinct among conservatives. Politics, however, are of course always the issue; war is political combat gone haywire. I cannot help but find it a little smelly the way this particular expert shrugs his shoulders and says the gassed and bombed Kurds were thanked for their troubles and, sorry fellas, that’s the price of politics. Tough world. Politics ain’t beanbag. President Bush and all his successors, including the current one, have kowtowed to the Saudi tyrants, a gang of serial rapists, child molesters, and moneybags for terror gangs throughout the Islamic world. This may be politics in their books, but it looks a lot like an awfully evil kind of beanbag to some observers.
As to the Kurds, however, my witty colleague Mr. Flynn — full disclosure, my former editor at Breitbart Sports — throws up his hands and says basically we do not understand anything about these weirdos out there except that, as the late, great Samuel Huntington put it, we are up against a foreign civilization.
Sure enough. But the American way, if the foreign civilization is hostile, is to smash it. We smashed the Germans, the Soviets, the Japanese. Earlier, the Comanche.
The risks of nuclear Armageddon were such in the early 1950s that we modified this way of doing things and chose containment, whose practical application is called limited war. This has had decidedly mixed results, but interestingly one place where the results were rather good happens to be in Kurdish lands. Specifically, they played a major role in the war against the Islamic Caliphate. This was a front in the wars of Islam, which include wars within Islam itself. To win this war we need allies inside and out of the enemy’s territories and zones of influence. The Kurds are the only reliable ones we have found and tested.
Those who say the war between the Kurds and the Turks is none of our business are myopic. As long as there is a threat to the U.S. in the Middle East, or stemming from the Middle East, we need to seek advantageous positions. The Kurds, with the Indians potentially in their rear (look at the map), give us a base in the region’s northeast. From this base we and the Kurds can keep the Persians on the defensive. We can hold off the Pashtun hordes to the north, egged on by the Russians, who covet the Gulf.
We do not need Gulf oil, but much of the rest of the world does. Unless we want to retreat into the kind of Puerto Rican-free splendid isolation of which our friends at the American Conservative dream in their rare restful nights, we cannot allow this, any more than the British, who frankly never should have retreated from east of Suez, let alone Suez, could allow hostile powers to challenge its dominion over the waves.
(Which reminds me, and just to be clear here, I supported James Webb in the 2016 election, and next year, unless he runs again, I intend to vote for the conservative in best position to win. This is the Buckley rule, or one of the Buckley rules.)
Holding the high ground in the northeast of South Asia, and, at the eastern shoreline of the Mediterranean holding the front line of the West, thanks to our only steadfast ally, Israel, pace our pals at TAC, the whole geostrategic situation changes in our favor. The forces of freedom have the tyrants in a pincer! Whichever way they face, we or our friends have a target on their backs.
Some will say the Kurds are not all the same. That is a good one. Of course they are not all the same. There are some 50 million Kurds in the larger Middle East, representing perhaps a tenth of the whole population. Most are Muslims. They are laid-back Muslims, for the most part, in the sense that they do not make it their life’s work to kill non-Muslims. Jews, Christians, Yazidi, Marxists, liberal democrats, the Kurds live side by side with them and sometimes are of their faith or viewpoint. This is one way to define a modern society: toleration, indeed welcoming, of diverse ideas. In this regard most Arab societies are still pre-modern, which is one reason we should not be selling them advanced weapons of war and classics like the 1957 Cadillac De Ville.
Though G. H. W. Bush dismayed the Kurds of Iraq, looked away when Saddam Hussein gassed and machine-gunned them, G. W. Bush made some degree of atonement by helping them establish an autonomous government in the region around Erbil (southern Kurdistan to the Kurds). This is the one undisputed success of the wars we have been waging since the campaign to liberate the petrochemical refinery known as Kuwait.
Observe that it owes nothing to the National Endowment for Democracy, nor to Max Boot & Co., the civilian nation-building war consultants who did such a fine job in Afghanistan, Libya, and the other regions of Iraq. Though to be fair to our nation-building whiz kids, Iraq as a political entity never had a chance after T. E. Lawrence was out of British Middle East policymaking.
No question, the Kurds of the entity called Iraq are not the same as the Kurds of the entity called Syria. And no question, some of those Syrian Kurds are in cahoots with the PKKs, who are responsible for several decades of terror-war inside Turkey, causing thousands of victims from their banditry and the Turkish security forces’ response, which does not follow Queensberry rules. They will not follow Queensberry rules in Syria, either, where they are reported to be using Arabo-Islamist auxiliaries on the ground to kill every Kurd in sight.
The Turks have as much right to hot pursuit as we had, defending Texas, in going into Mexico after bandits like Pancho Villa, or, defending free Vietnam, communist fighters in Laos and Cambodia. They are concerned that the northern Syrian Kurds, who were an essential component in the successful fight against the Islamic Caliphate (ISIS), are controlled by a PKK affiliate. That may be so, but who is to say? I thought our non-intervention eggheads said we should not get involved in what we do not understand.
If the Syrian Kurds turn out to be finks, which is not a given, the southern (Iraqi) Kurds maybe can fix them. But what we are doing now is allowing the Turkish Islamist to launch Arabo-Islamist militia against the Kurds, under the cover of the heavy weapons (artillery, tanks) that the Turkish army provides. These militia are not as bad as ISIS — yet. When the Kurds speak of ethnic cleansing and mass murder, they should be taken seriously, and that is what they warn will happen if we abandon them.
Possibly, they will be rescued by the intervention of Russia, which has some leverage with Ankara despite Turkey being a member of NATO, or the forces of Bashar al-Assad, or both. Great: instead of getting the bad guys in our pincers, we give them strategic space inside the very region we want to keep them out of. Makes perfect sense. And also, ISIS is revived and recharged and let loose by whoever is pulling its strings, to rampage and wreck havoc around the world, unto the very gates of Vienna.
Is that it? Or should we make a stand at Qamishli? Don’t ask me where it is — all I know is the Turks are closing in on this town that is said to be a Kurdish center out there near the border that Recep Erdoğan, the elected president of Turkey, wants to cleanse ethnically the way his predecessors cleansed Anatolia of Armenians. Of whom Hitler remarked, “Who remembers them?”
No one could locate Danzig, either, in the spring of 1939. That was when Marcel Déat, a socialist veteran of World War I (a much-decorated hero, in fact) who, having approved the Munich accord, was rapidly sliding toward the far right of French politics, penned a piece in L’Oeuvre, back then their New York Times (roughly speaking), headlined, “Die for Danzig?” His argument: it was strictly a German–Polish matter, and we’ve had enough war. Forget the Poles just as you forgot the Czechs; they are far away and nobody understands those eastern quarrels.
War came, and the Poles, then the French, and the Brits, and everyone — even some Kurds — died for Danzig. Might it have been averted had the French and the others told Hitler to lay off? Probably not; he would have called their bluff. But keep in mind we have the United States Air Force. I still think, however, a formal declaration of a casus belli would suffice to restrain the Turks, and it would have the added value of forcing Congress to be accountable.
The Kurds would not want American boots on the ground anyway. Air cover, intelligence, and munitions support, they would like. As the president says, it’s their country. But they must have the means.
Let me die in my footsteps, before I go down under the ground.