The greatest hue and cry has gone up over the alleged “betrayal” of Syrian Kurds, who battled against the Islamic State. Yet many of those screaming the loudest care nothing about Washington’s support for the cruel, corrupt, and irresponsible Saudi regime’s murderous war in Yemen. For these Americans the Kurds’ plight looks mostly like an excuse to keep the U.S. mired in an endless war in the Middle East that cannot be justified on any other grounds. An unconvincing burst of moral concern is not a good reason to concoct a previously undeclared, undebated, unlegislated defense commitment.
The Kurds long have suffered and are one of the world’s largest people groups without their own country. While the Kurds have understandably struggled for self-determination, however, they are not blameless. Kurdistan is more family rule than liberal democracy. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in Turkey, is radical, brutal, and terrorist. Syria’s Kurds have ties to the PKK and many of them look to that group’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, for inspiration. Turkey overstates the dangers posed by links between Turkish and Syrian Kurds, but Washington’s lack of responsiveness only has exacerbated Ankara’s paranoia.
While there is good reason to sympathize with the Kurds, they fought ISIS to advance their own self-interest, not for America’s, or the international community’s, benefit. Indeed, they were fighting Islamist radicals before the U.S. inserted combat forces in Syria against ISIS. Had the Islamic State been able to expand its reach, the Kurds’ autonomous zone of Rojava would have been a target.