Salvador Dali Self portrait (Figueres) 1921
An article from long term Automatic Earth contributor Alexander Aston, who feels very strongly about the topic.
Personally, I have many more questions left. It’s easy to say Trump abandoned the Kurds, and everybody says just that, but because they all do I ask myself if that is really what happened. It’s an ugly situation alright, but would it have been prefereable if US soldiers had stayed in Syria indefinitely?
I’m looking at France, UK, Germany, Holland, refusing to repatriate ‘their’ ISIS citizens, leaving the US -and the Kurds- to take care of them, of the conundrum, and of the consequences. There’s no question that leaving it up to Erdogan is a bad idea, but Putin has already taken over command.
Everyone but Capitol Hill agrees it’s a good idea to get the US out of Endless Wars, but they haven’t been doing anything about it for many years. And when Trump does, there are no intricate discussions, there’s only black or white and then there’s Orange Man Bad.
Should Trump have gone the Obama route and bombed the heebeejeebees out of the country? You know, rather than let Turkey do it, knowing full well that Putin would stop it anyway?
But this is Alexander’s piece, not mine, and I love him.
“If we do not do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable.”
– Murray Bookchin
Like the best of his generation, my American grandfather was a die-hard antifascist. He was shot down twice over Europe and spent the last nine months as a prisoner of war. The old man was highly decorated, earning a distinguished flying cross with three oak leaf clusters, four air medals, a silver star and a purple heart. However, the only memento of the war he ever showed me as a child was the tin mug that he ate from while in prison camp.
One of the few times that I saw him cry in my life was asking him about his experiences. He said to me, “son, I don’t know what was under those bombs I dropped; I’m going to die not knowing how many people I’ve killed.” He taught me more about sacrifice and responsibility with those words and the look in his eyes than I could express in a thousand pages. He showed me more about integrity and grit with a simple tin cup than all the honours and decorations in the world.
My grandfather was not perfect, but he was a good man. If you were wrong he would fight with you all day long, and if you were right he’d stand back to back with you until the very end. He was shot down the first time over Yugoslavia having been assigned to the mission as a replacement bombardier for another crew. After making it back to Allied lines with the aid of partisans he went back to work fighting fascism with his old crew, with whom he had promised to see out the war. It was his fourth tour of duty when he was shot down the second time.
He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross when their B-24 was strafed by a BF-109, killing one of the waist gunners and severely wounding the other as well as jamming the bomb bay doors open. Unstrapping his parachute so he could make his way to the back of the plane, he stabilised the surviving gunner, manned the 50 cal. and managed to shoot down the fighter as it came in for another sweep. The old man was fearless his whole life; he even testified against the mob after being hung by his ankles over the side of a high rise in Baltimore decades later.
These are lessons that he taught me which I will try to embody and to live up to my entire life: always keep your word, defend those weaker than yourself, and never stop fighting for what is right no matter the opponent, no matter the odds. He would have turned ninety-seven this last Friday, and I know that if he were here to see what has been done to the Syrian Kurds, his shame and anger would be boundless. He’s not here to speak up, so I will because that is what he taught me.
The Syrian Kurds and their allies in the SDF have sacrificed life and limb to stop the spread of Daesh. They confronted head on one of the most virulent and horrific ideologies in history, of an organisation bent on genocide, enslavement and unimaginable cruelty. The Kurds managed to do this at the same time that they set up a multi-ethnic, religiously tolerant, confederated democracy with equal political representation of women. It is not a perfect system, but it’s a hell of an accomplishment given the circumstances and a damn sight better than anything else going on in the Middle East.
Whether you are on the left or the right, we should all feel shame over the betrayal and dishonour shown to those that have fought Daesh. The Kurds dismantled their defensive position at the request of the US in the expectation that the Americans would maintain the security mechanism in good faith. The United States has actively impeded attempts by the SDF to come to a rapprochement with the Syrian State.
Now, these people that fought and died fighting Islamofascism are being massacred by the Turkish army and its FSA proxies, which are largely comprised of jihadists from Daesh and Al-Nusra. All of this violence is at the behest of Erdogan and the AKP, an authoritarian ethno-nationalist party which has systematically destroyed the secular democratic institutions and economy of Turkey, not to mention that it materially aided and abetted the rise of the Islamic State.
Many people, on both the left and the right, are currently justifying the current campaign of ethnic cleansing by the Turkish state. Often this justification is couched as some sort of anti-imperialist position. It is rather simplistic and naive to think that creating a sudden power vacuum and allowing the Kurds to be destroyed is going to end American imperialism or even improve the country’s foreign policy. Rather, this decision ensures further entanglement into an endless conflict in the Middle East. The announced deployment of US troops to Saudi Arabia this week shows that there is no real intention to leave the region.
Furthermore, as a NATO member, the US supplies and maintains the vast majority of Turkey’s military hardware. Allowing Erdogan to destroy one of the few secular and stable regions in the area and reviving the Jihadi caliphate is hardly dismantling America’s imperial model. It is simply allowing the same folks to continue making money off the collective suffering of decent people everywhere.
Likewise, replacing the US with other imperialisms will only set the stage for further conflict, particularly in a region on which the global energy system is dependent. While the Americans are undeniably in Syria for their own imperial ambitions, the Kurds worked in good faith with the US out of a very reasonable desire to survive and secure their own freedom. Defending them from ethnic cleansing now is not an imperial act but basic human solidarity.
The other absurd argument bandied about is that this ethnic cleansing campaign is somehow the fault of the Syrian Kurds because they failed to side with Assad. This view is ignorant of the historical relationship between the Assad regime and the Kurds, who were systematically dispossessed and excluded from participation within Syrian society. The Syrian army abandoned Kurdish areas before the YPG and YPJ stepped into the power vacuum.
They were left to their own devices fighting Daesh for quite some time before the Americans began to support them tentatively. The destruction of their communities is not warranted because, caught between the SAA’s indifference and Turkey’s antagonism, they made a pragmatic alliance with the US, a government that was not directly oppressing them. Should they have allowed themselves to be slaughtered by Daesh in a quest for ideological purity?
The US repeatedly attempted to build its coalition with Turkey and its preferred network of jihadist rebels. The truth is that the Kurds were the most resilient, tenacious and effective forces fighting the Islamic State. The Pentagon backed them once it was clear that they were the only ones “getting the job done.” It should also be noted that this chain of events is distinct from the cynical roles played by the State Department and CIA in arming the jihadists (though this does reveal the many internal contradictions and competing power blocs within the US).
The reality of the situation is immensely complex with a lot of grey areas. Nonetheless, if the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria is wiped off the map, we will all live to regret it. The United States inadvertently created Daesh with its invasion of Iraq and the prisons in which it housed Baathists and Jihadists together. The catastrophe that is the contemporary Middle East is fundamentally a result of the United States’ imperial hubris and horrific foreign policy, but, as the Americans like to say, “you break it, you buy it.”
After five hard years of putting that genie back in the bottle, another strategic blunder threatens us with a resurgence of the Caliphate. Yes, the United States should leave the Middle East, but it should do so responsibly. If this lunacy is not stopped then it is only a matter of time before there are more waves of terror attacks in Europe.
The Syrian Kurds have borne the brunt of the fight against Islamofascism and made a sincere attempt at setting up a libertarian society in the heart of the Middle East. A no fly zone needs to be put in place immediately; without American F-16’s bombing their positions the SDF is perfectly capable of fighting the Turkish military in a ground war. Arms embargoes on Turkey and targeted sanctions on the leadership of the AKP, making it increasingly difficult for Turkey to carry out its ethnic cleansing campaign.
Furthermore, European countries should repatriate and try to imprison their nationals who were radicalised in their own countries before absconding to fight with Daesh in Syria instead of leaving the SDF to take care of them with their limited resources. Essentially, it is time to take some responsibility.
The American president is probably too incompetent and too narcissistic to understand what he has done. He has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and materially supported the resurgence of the Islamic State. It is the greatest historical blunder in US foreign policy since Iraq. Appeasing Erdogan will only encourage him to be more aggressive. We must boycott, divest and sanction Turkey before we find ourselves in an even more expanded conflict. Those who are willing and able to engage in non-violent direct actions outside of Northern Syria to disrupt the Turkish agenda, must do so!
In the course of writing roughly a thousand Islamic State affiliated prisoners, at least, have been freed by Turkey and its proxies. In a last ditch effort to avoid annihilation, the SDF has made a bargain with the Syrian Arab Army, with luck it will prevent the worst atrocities at present from continuing. Perhaps this will expand the conflict on international scale not yet seen. Nonetheless, the Assad regime is brutal, authoritarian and ideologically defined by a strain of Arab ethno-nationalist chauvinism.
Undoubtedly, the people of eastern Syria have given up a great deal of freedom and autonomy to avoid destruction. As the regime solidifies its control, arrests, disappearances and torturing of the political opposition are all but assured. Hopefully there is enough resilience and conviction amongst the Syrian population that they might be able to peacefully depose their leader once the war has truly ended.
What is undeniable is the American strategic position and geopolitical clout has been fundamentally shaken by its abandonment of the Kurds. I welcome the end of American empire, but make no mistake, this is not an intelligent, strategic withdrawal and deconstruction of that institution. This is a chaotic and ill-conceived implosion of the American system that will only bring suffering to her people and the rest of us.
Nonetheless, dignity demands that we try to keep our word, stand up for what is right and defend the Syrian Kurds to the best of our abilities. If we will not shoulder the burden and share in the sacrifice of those that fight for us then we do not deserve the honour of so much as a tin cup in the prisons we will have erected for ourselves.
Bijî Berxdewana Rojava!
Just a thought from Beau of the Fifth Column
Alexander Aston is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Oxford and is on the board of directors with the Centre for Cognitive Archaeology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He has prior degrees in philosophy and history. His work lays at the intersection of Cognitive Archaeology, Deep History and Natural Philosophy, examining the relationship between ecology, material culture and social cognition. Alexander grew up between Zimbabwe, Greece and the United States.