Syria, The Kurds and Russia

Over the course of my Army career, I had numerous opportunities to live with, train, fight beside and become friends with Kurds.  I am not unlike many others that had the same experiences over the last two decades in that my interactions with the Kurds left me with a sense of respect, admiration and affection for them. 

Naturally, I felt an initial sense of bewilderment and some anger last week at what seemed a sudden US policy shift relative to the Kurds.  We have had many foreign partners and extra-national compatriots over the years but in my and many other’s experiences, none match the overall worthiness and decency of the Kurds.  Also, considering this is not the first, but rather the third, major policy betrayal of the Kurds by the US in the last 30 years this all just felt wrong.  I made real friends among Kurdish soldiers, this all touched me on a personal level.

However, once I put emotions aside and began to analyze what has occurred critically, I have come to suspect that something much bigger has occurred.  The narrative spun by “national security experts” and parroted by hyperbolic media is an inaccurate picture of these events because none of these folks seems to be taking into account actual facts.

Facts

Despite the Kurds being one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without a country of their own it has never been a US policy tenet to support the formation of such – our partnership with the Kurds in Syria was always within the context of a restored Syria.

The “moderate” elements so often touted by liberal pundits and neoconic warhawks, were never really that moderate.  Many of those elements are now threatening genocide on the Kurds in support of Turkey (and by extension Saudi Arabia).  The Kurds were and are the only moderates in Syria.  

Turkey itself has a pretty dismal history.  There is, of course, the Armenian genocide in the early 20th Century, persecution of religious and ethnic minorities and growing repression of the rule of law and political dissent inside the regime.  The failed 2016 coup was perhaps the last best effort to set Turkey on a different path, but the resulting purge removed all remaining moderate and sane voices.  Their policies and action since have proven they are no ally and not within the Western sphere of thought and action.

By any objective measure, Bashar al-Assad was and is not that bad, relatively speaking, when compared to other outcomes in the Middle East.  The Muslim world works best, politically, with a strong government that keeps the passions of the people in check.  Assad was no better or worse than any other leader in the region in this regard.  In fact, pre-civil war Syria respected the rights of ethnic and religious minorities far better than many countries in the region – Turkey and Saudi Arabia as prime examples of “allies” that have much worse records in that regard. By international law and custom, Assad is the legitimate leader of Syria – objectively it was never correct to interject in the internal affairs of another sovereign nation without their invitation.

Many in the media bemoan the fact that a US disengagement from Syria empowers Russia and Iran.  The standard narrative conflates the interest of those two countries into an “axis of evil” but that is not a correct view.  Their interest have been conjoined only insofar as the recent geopolitical environment has made them bedfellows.  The other part of this flawed narrative is that Russia is an enemy to be feared which, when evaluated based upon real facts is ridiculous.  They are at worst a protagonist and adversary in terms of some strategic goals but Russia is a glass cannon, a shade of its former self.  The true peer competitive enemy of the US is China – focus on Russia “getting a small win” distracts from the real threat.

Assad is Russia’s ally.  Syria has invited Russia into Syria to assist with its internal conflict.  This complies with international law.  The US was never invited and short of declaring war in Syria, we were always wrong for being there.

Considering those facts, recent events make more sense.  Russia is not a threat to us.  The US was expending blood and treasure in a place, not in our strategic interest.  Syria is within Russia’s strategic interest and a stable Syria would control ISIS. 

Conclusion

Why would a rational person not see this as an acceptable outcome?

Consider this.  Less than 24 hours after the “infamous” tweet last Thursday the Kurds struck a deal with the Syria Army.  Is it reasonable to assume that enemies suddenly become allies following a tweet?  Is it more reasonable to assume a lot more went on behind the scenes prior to the announcement via tweet that facilitated this arrangement?  It is highly unlikely the US would announce that we brokered a deal like that but looking at the situation rationally it seems the most likely possibility.  If so, we really did not abandon the Kurds as is so readily portrayed in the media. 

Such an outcome is essentially a strategic win for the US.  We get out of Syria, the Syrian government can reestablish control of its territory and return to the status quo that existed prior to the civil war (and no matter what political grievances some people had then the situation was much better than the last several years, that is inarguable).  Russia bears the responsibility to see all this through, via financial and military support.  We can retract and refocus on our true threats in the world – China.

The only fly in the ointment is Turkey and their invasion of Syria.