Mitt in 2019: protecting Kurds ‘one of our most sacred duties’; Mitt in 2007: ‘Kurdish nationalism could destabilize the border with Turkey’

Politician Mitt Romney has joined journalists like Bill Kristol and Jennifer Rubin in contradicting his previously-espoused positions when President Trump acts on them. Back in 2007 when he was running for president, Romney took to the pages of Foreign Affairs, the journal published by the Council on Foreign Relations, aka Globalism Central, to warn against the danger presented by unthinking American adherence to Kurdish nationalism. Joel Pollak of Breitbart remembered:

In an essay for Foreign Policy regarded as a definitive statement of his foreign policy views at the time, Romney warned that “Kurdish nationalism could destabilize the border with Turkey.”

He meant the Iraqi border with Turkey, but Kurdish nationalism is widely recognized as a force throughout the region. Romney’s statement, in full context, was as follows (emphasis added):

Today, the nation’s attention is focused on Iraq. All Americans want U.S. troops to come home as soon as possible. But walking away now or dividing Iraq up into parts and walking away later would present grave risks to the United States and the world. Iran could seize the Shiite south, al Qaeda could dominate the Sunni west, and Kurdish nationalism could destabilize the border with Turkey. A regional conflict could ensue, perhaps even requiring the return of U.S. troops under far worse circumstances.

Romney delivered that statement to a live audience as part of a speech on foreign policy to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, on April 10, 2007.

The circumstances then were not too different, even though the war in Syria was several years away: Kurds in Iraq had already proved important U.S. allies. Yet Romney warned, correctly, that they could complicate relations with Turkey.

Mitt in 2007 photo credit: Gage Skidmore (cropped)

Romney was following the familiar diplomatic truism annunciated by 19th century British prime minister Lord Palmerston: “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.”

Yet now that President Trump has withdrawn fewer than 50 American troops from an area near the Turkish-Syrian border, suddenly we have a “scared” obligation to the Kurds:

The decision to abandon the Kurds violates one of our most sacred duties. It strikes at American honor. What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history.”

I have plenty of sympathy for the Kurds. They have been badly screwed by the world powers that failed to grant them a state of their own as part of the redrawing of Middle Eastern maps at the Versailles Peace Conference that ended World War One. I wish they could have a state of their own. But their armed fighters come in many stripes, and they follow their own interests, even when they clash with ours.

People who wail that Trump has demonstrated that America is an unreliable ally whose commitments can’t be trusted seem to think that he has broken a track record of perfect fidelity to our commitments to others. Sorry: that train left the station a long, long time ago because we follow Lord Palmerston just like everybody else.  Ask the Ukrainians about the understanding reached in 1994 that if they gave up their nuclear arsenal (one third of the Soviets’ stock of nukes), we’d protect them. Gee, who was president then? I think his name was Clinton…. And who was president when Russia took Crimea away from Ukraine?  I think is name was Obama.

Or ask the ghost of Libya’s late dictator Moammar Gaddafi about his surrender of his nukes in 2003.  He ended up riding a bayonet down the street, and Obama’s secretary of state found it hilarious: “We came, we saw, he died.”

I wish the world were a nicer place, where the concept of honor worked at the level of nation-states. But that isn’t how it works. Nations do owe an obligation to their citizens, at least when they are democracies that espouse the theory that the source of their authority is the consent of their people. But that obligation does not – and logically cannot – extend to other nations. President Trump is clear that he operates on the principle of putting the interests of his nation first, just as every other head of state does, or should do.

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