Foreign Policy

NATO must arm the Kurds, but only the pro-American Kurds

Now that it has been (finally!) recognized that America’s vital interests are enmeshed in the current Middle East conflagration, it is vital to recall the admonition provided to Indiana Jones [during his “Last Crusade”]:  America must “choose wisely” when determining which combatants to arm.

Not only is full-throttle advocacy for the Free Syrian Army [“FSA”] suspect, but it is necessary to identify the proper group of Kurds to assist as boots-on-the-ground. Kurds have amply demonstrated—as a whole—their vital role and, thus, America has it doubly wrong when diverting attention to the FSA instead of directly arming the Peshmerga. Indeed, far from concern that they may be part of a “coalition of the unwilling,” Kurds are recognized as committed to the destruction of the Islamic State; this focus is indubitably shared with the United States.

The first concern is with the FSA, for it is led by Abdul-Ilah al-Bashir al-Noeimi, a former Brigadier General under Hafez Assad who has disseminated views that are unabashedly anti-Kurd, anti-Israel (and, thus, anti-American); thus, the vetting-dilemma immediately arises, a languishing concern that was said to have forestalled earlier support for this amalgamation, as it was formulating.

The second concern is with which group of Kurds to buttress, now that light arms and nonmilitary relief is being air-dropped. It is vital to confront the reality of alliances and allegiances that affect the dynamics of the larger forces at play. Sufficient information exists to permit America to identify the “good guys” who will remain pro-American following resolution of the ongoing civil war, particularly when its Sunni-Shi’ite subcontext is weighed. In short, America must support—exclusively—the Peshmerga aligned with the Kurdistan Regional Government [“KRG”] based in Erbil., and then work from there (honoring the input of trusted allies) when discerning which other groups to buttress.

The KRG is aligned with the Syrian National Council of Syria (in Syria) and the Syrian National Assembly of Syria (in the rest of the world, particularly in America). Its leaders know which of the other non-Kurd forces are not going to divert arms to rebels, both in Syria and in Iraq. Furthermore, its leaders know which of the other Kurd forces are not aligned with Iran’s mullahs, Syria’s Assad, and Turkey’s Erdoğan; each of these contiguous countries has revealed harboring agendae with components that are adverse to American interests and, thus, must be counterbalanced. If American public opinion is to be brought up to speed so that support will not be predicated on reacting to beheadings, its leadership must channel recognition of the need to combat Islamism in its myriad manifestations; treating the underlying disorder must supplant symptom-control.

Specifically, Iran’s mullahs want to create a Shi’ite belt westward to the Mediterranean, the Syrians want to gas everyone into continued submission, and the Turks want to promote regional leadership in the Islamist effort to create a worldwide caliphate, resurrecting the Ottoman Empire. Each has said as much, and each has demonstrated distain for the Kurds; for example, within the past fortnight, Erdoğan has equated the Kurds with the Islamic State. Without “getting too much into the weeds,” know that certain Kurdish groups have been co-opted, as we detailed in an earlier essay [“America Must Recognize Kurdistan”] which we recently updated [“NATO Must Help the Kurds Now”]; also know that Russia has consistently been propping-up Assad, who has provided a warm-water port at Tartus.

 What can reasonably be anticipated by adopting this course is establishment of a foothold of democracy where the people yearn for it, appreciative of the opportunities it affords; one need only recognize the tremendous achievements of the Kurdish semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq to confirm how welcome Kurds would find the infusion of American assistance, both military and nonmilitary. There would be no concern with the hazards of “nation-building,” for the polity already exists, indeed, it has existed for more than three millennia.

Sklaroff is a physician-activist and supporter of Kurdish self-determination.​ Abbas is the chairman of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria. 


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