The Road to Defeating the Islamic State Runs through Kurdistan
Now that President Trump concluded that the Syrian gas attack "crossed many, many lines" and reacted accordingly, he must formulate a battle-plan to convert dynamic "talk" into ongoing "walk."
In the process, he should recognize that it is in America's best interest to recognize Kurdistan as a sovereign state and to deduce how to proceed thereafter based upon the historic, military, economic, religious and political implications of this overdue stance.
Its immediate impact would be felt in the Pentagon, as it plans how to defeat the Islamic State, but its long-term import can provide a template as to how to remodel the Middle East to maximize the interests of the United States, American allies, and long-suffering Middle Eastern peoples.
And it would serve as the culmination of regional battle plans we have proposed for almost a decade: in 2008, we focused upon how to confront the major source of global terrorism, and in 2015, we demonstrated why the United States cannot evade this trouble-spot. In 2013, we simply concluded that the Kurds can lead a reborn Syria, at peace with all of her neighbors, and in 2014, we suggested that NATO must help the Kurds now.
Historically, the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres was one of 35 treaties addressing the disposition of the former Ottoman Empire following World War I. It was signed by the Ottomans, French, British, Italians, and Armenians.
Unfortunately, the Turks reneged after initially having accepted it, leading to its being supplanted by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that officially settled the conflict. It was signed by Turkey, Greece, Italy, Japan, and Great Britain.
The former advocated for a Kurdish referendum to decide its fate, which was to include the Mosul Province, per Section III, Articles 62-64. The latter defined the borders of the modern Turkish Republic.
Thus, the unfinished business created by the former should yield re-establishment of an independent Kurdistan in the Syrian-Iraqi region. To accommodate the latter, acknowledged, would be a regional diaspora in Eastern Turkey and northwestern Iran, thereby resolving presumed vague territorial claims.
Yet, following defeat of the Islamic State, the only superpower that could subsequently protect the Kurds (and Kurdish Yazidis) from Turkish, Iranian, Russian, and Syrian attack is America.
And the only way to prompt Moscow to act to oust Iran from Syria is for America to ante up and – functioning as a player who no longer is following from behind – to encourage implementation of a Grand Plan to end this half-decade civil war by creating key spheres of influence:
Russia would legitimize its military presence along the Mediterranean, while America would both provide a buffer between Damascus and the Golan Heights (in southern Syria) and protect the Kurdistan region of Syria (currently and historically heavily populated by Kurds) south of Turkey from the Mediterranean Sea to the Tigris River (in northern Syria).
Indeed, it may be the pendency of this Grand Plan that explains both why President Trump had avoided criticizing President Putin and why relocation of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been delayed.
In any case, militarily, by introducing troops into Syria in conjunction with Operation Inherent Resolve, America would help create safe zones to which Syrian refugees could be relocated (from Europe, Turkey, and Jordan), within which they could be able to work with non-Islamists to found a country led by freedom-loving Kurds and to defend it against barbaric terrorists.
Two constituencies would have to become convinced of the wisdom of assuming this limited leadership role: myriad Kurdish factions and American public opinion.
The former would have to adopt a unified structure that maximizes its independence from foreign influences, and the latter would have to be educated as to how the United States would benefit from achieving stability in this volatile region.
Pivotal would be creation of a coalition government composed solely of Kurds who share Western values, thereby precluding inter-Kurdish conflict as occurred in the 1990s in Iraq.
Under American leadership – respecting "facts on the ground" – the pro-Assad YPG ("People's Protection Units") in the northeast would join with the pro-American KurdNAS ("Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria") in the northwest to create a solitary administrative unit.
Positive public opinion could be mustered from Europeans (and their governments) to gain support from the NATO alliance, for they are increasingly recognizing that many restless refugees may be "overstaying their welcome."
It would then be easier to muster domestic support for this limited incursion – already presaged by the presence of about 5,000 special forces in the arena – behaviorally answering Iran's "slap America in the face" threat.
This region would be contiguous with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq – that some feel should have become an independent entity after the Gulf War – and, thus, could subsequently become the Kurdish homeland envisioned a century ago.
Re-establishing Kurdistan would resolve the agitation of the PKK ("Kurdistan Workers' Party") in eastern Turkey, for the Turkish Kurds would constitute a diaspora that would no longer rebel against Ankara.
Sensitivity to this concern were reflected by delay in American provision of heavy armaments to the Kurds, who are leading the assault on Rakka, until after the upcoming Turkish referendum, a posture that perhaps was enhanced by recapitulation of the demand that Ankara release an American pastor.
American's military and diplomatic moves during the past fortnight – as also detailed at the DebkaFile – are consistent with these strategic goals, including U.S. helicopters having dropped Kurdish and Arab fighters west of Raqqa, and Secretary of State Tillerson having met with embattled Russians and Islamist Turks.
Thereafter, absent Iranian involvement, Turkey suddenly ended its "Euphrates Shield" invasion of Syria, and the Syrian army and rebel groups signed an agreement that will allow an estimated 60,000 people to depart from four besieged areas of the country.
Any residual Turkish resistance to this negotiated outcome would be resolved by providing President Erdoğan the corner of Syria that encompasses the Tomb of Suleyman Shah – who was the grandfather of Osman I (d. 1323/4), the founder of the Ottoman Empire – that arguably triggered his military to invade. He would no longer feel compelled to purchase missiles from the Russians.
The exit strategy could, unfortunately, allow secular President Assad to remain in power if elected in a referendum conducted within a shrunken country, for myriad governmental and non-governmental militias would be left to determine the character of the resulting entity, including Christian forces.
Unfortunately, the Alawite-Russian bond has strengthened following ex-President Obama's initial failure to honor his "red line" pledge and his ongoing blind neo-isolationism.
Kurdistan's oil reserves and ingenuity – born of its sustained ancient culture – would allow her to continue to flourish economically, American support for this entity would undermine claims of anti-Muslim religious posturing, and the outcome could help resolve longstanding political conflicts such as friction between Baghdad and Erbil and conflict among myriad Kurdish factions.
Thus, at long last, America must recognize Kurdistan and, by serving as midwife for a new country, would defeat the Islamic State and obtain both immediate and long-term dividends.
Kurds would become the buffer for Europe and America's allies in the region by interdicting Iran's dream of creating a Shia Crescent to the Sea and Turkey's aspiration to recreate an Ottoman Empire. American inactivity would constitute a lost opportunity that might become irretrievable.
Sherkoh Abbas is president of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria. Robert Sklaroff is a physician-activist.