First let me say that the YPJ/SDF is probably the most sympathetic non-state actor in the entire Syrian Civil War. Second, I will state clearly and definitely that the present Turkish government under Erdogan and the AKP is second only to that of Saudi Arabia as a force for destabilization and horror in the contemporary Middle East. There is no question that at this point Erdogan is the primary villain of Syria’s long unfolding tragedy.
That out of the way, the hysterical response to the ‘western betrayal’ of ‘the Kurds’ is utterly bizarre and hard to fathom…at least for anyone who thinks first in terms of strategy and not in emotional sentimentality. For the following reasons:
- Turkey was always the bigger geopolitical prize than ‘the Kurds’ (i.e. the Rojava/SDF-there is no one unified faction of Kurds) and so both the United States and Russia were always going to jockey for influence in Ankara first rather than over a thin strip of unrecognized territory in northern Syria. This has always been the case and should surprise exactly no one.
- The United States had better chance holding on to South Vietnam in 1975 than it ever did holding on to to Syria’s northeast. A handful of operators ostensibly helping Kurdish forces battle Islamists was just as much there to prevent Kurdish-Damascus rapprochement as for any other reason. But the Syrian government is in the region to stay and the U.S. never really could be. As it is, prompt withdrawal of American forces increases the odds of Kurdish-Syrian and Syrian government forces being able to coordinate a response to Turkey’s blatant act of invasion at the head of a force of neo-Bashi-Bazouks.
- If Russia acts to clip Turkey’s wings in northern Syria (one can hope though that hope is far from likely at this point) it will be easier to do so with U.S. forces gone from the immediate area as the first thing they want gone is American influence there. This is far more likely to happen than the Americans being able to hold back the Turks themselves.
- What is the alternative? The far left (most vocal western factions wailing about betrayal) joins forces with the neoconservative right to voice support for some kind Israel-like creation of a Kurdish state that will set off a series of regional wars requiring an endless commitment to arming and equipping Kurdish forces against all their neighbors forever? No doubt Netanyahu and the ghost of Trotsky alike gets wet at the thought.
- Worst of all, from my very subjective perspective, all of this has overshadowed the great news that the Saudis might be forced into a corner by the Houthis in Yemen. But the House of Saud teeters perpetually upon the brink of collapse in a way that the AKP in Turkey definitely seems not to. And if anything, taking a ‘strong line’ against a Kurdish bogeyman probably further bolsters Erdogan’s position at home.
States have permanent interests and not permanent friends. The Kurds of the Rojava/SDF themselves should and probably do know this. They would be fools if they did not. But so much of the commentary coming from across the board in the developed world have forgotten this principle. Be not surprised when the ‘betrayal of the Kurds’ is used in future interventionist rhetoric for why we need to be more involved in this war or region at large.
But arguably this sequence of tragic affairs is a direct result of NATO involvement in the Syrian Civil War in the first place. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.