Opinion |

Trump Has Just Betrayed the Kurds, America's Best Defense Against ISIS

After all the blood that's been shed and lives lost fighting ISIS, Trump is taking us back to square one - and renewed, disastrous terror attacks on the streets of Europe and America

Akil Marceau
Akil Marceau
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Fighters from the Islamic State group parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle down a main road at the northern city of Mosul, Iraq. June 23, 2014
Fighters from the Islamic State group parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle down a main road at the northern city of Mosul, Iraq. June 23, 2014Credit: Uncredited,AP
Akil Marceau
Akil Marceau

You don’t need to be a strategic genius or an old-time left-winger to grasp that the West's interests in Kurdistan follows two trajectories: intervention – whether through colonial conquests in the past or its modern-day involvements in various key strategic hot spots; and serial strategic u-turns, which could also sometimes be called betrayal.

For a century, oil has been a crucial factor in Western calculations. When oil was discovered in the Middle East in the early twentieth century, Western powers jousted for territorial control, while unified by the principle that 'profit comes first.'

When oil was discovered in Kirkuk, today’s Iraqi Kurdistan, long before Saudi Arabia’s own discoveries, it was still part of the Ottoman Empire. Following WWI, the British betrayed their French allies, taking over the region despite the Sykes-Picot Agreement's secret carve-up of the Middle East, signed by both sides.

The Kurds should have understood by that point that the great powers were not only prepared to betray them – but were also ready to betray one other.

A Syrian Kurdish militia member of the YPG patrols near a Turkish army tank in Esme village in Aleppo province, Syria. Feb. 22, 2015Credit: מורסל קובאן / אי-פ�

>> Trump abandons Syria's Kurds: Will Turkey now crush their dream of a 'secular utopia?' | Explained ■ Trump has just betrayed the Kurds, America's most important defense against ISIS | Opinion

Oil price can still govern and direct the domestic policies of the superpowers. Their Achilles heel remains oil and energy management. Being French, I have seen that myself just recently: The unwise decision by France’s current government to increase the price of diesel, that would have impacted the poor the hardest, has had serious consequences, with rioters attacking the symbols of the Republic.

The Kurds live above an ocean of oil: they have their own political struggles, but they also stand at the interconnection of major geopolitical strategies in which they are secondary players, but whose effects are global.

But there is a second global issue that pivots, to their misfortune, on Kurdish lands: international terrorism.

Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters monitor the movements of Islamic State fighters in Hasaka city, Syria July 22, 2015Credit: \ REUTERS

President Trump's announcement that he intends to withdraw troops from northern Syria poses questions on many levels. This region is dominated by the Kurds, who fought against ISIS terrorists alongside American and French troops, who constitute the bulk of the Western boots on the ground.

Such a withdrawal could give rise to a strategic vacuum, quickly filled by countries that are working against Western interests in the region.

Russia and Iran have for a long time viewed this region as theirs by right. Erdogan's Turkey, a supporter of Islamists from Hamas to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, has long served as a rear-base for Syrian Islamists. It is now seeking to expand its sphere of influence deeper into Syria. The same Turkey, fearing the creation of an autonomous Syrian Kurdish entity on its southern border and its impact on the 20 million Kurds inside Turkey, is comfortable living in a region dominated by radical Islamists and has not hesitated to ally itself with movements linked to Al-Qaida.

Over 2000 ISIS terrorists are currently being held in detention by the Kurds. Disruption on the ground could see them escape - with incalculable consequences, including in the West. Remember that one single ISIS-linked terrorist in Strasbourg, France, spread terror throughout the country, and killed five innocent people in cold blood.

ISIS arrived on the Middle East scene proclaiming an "Islamic State," swiftly conquering one-third of Syrian-Iraqi territory and sowing terror across Western capitals. Only the Kurds, with the support of the West, were able to stop this meteoric rise in a region conducive to totalitarian ideologies.

The victory that has just been won by this alliance of circumstances remains very fragile, and must be consolidated, not demolished. Surely America, and the West, learnt a lesson from the too-hasty withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq?

Perhaps the Kurds should have asked the Western powers to respect their own standards and principles, the normative frameworks of human rights and self-determination, before engaging against a common enemy, just as Gideon asked God for several guarantees before fighting on his behalf. Perhaps that would have slowed this betrayal.

Trump's decision isolates and elevates America's interests from those of its allies and friends. But we live in an interconnected world and the war on terror is global.

The decision to withdraw U.S. troops, when implemented, will have disastrous consequences on the streets of Europe’s capitals and in the U.S. That would take both the West, the Kurds and the wider Middle East - after all the blood that's been shed and lives lost - back to square one.

Akil Marceau graduated in history and humanitarian law and has worked for French media outlets and the Japanese NHK television network. He is a researcher and former director of the Representation of the Regional Government of Iraqi Kurdistan in Paris.

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