Donald Trump, the Syrian Kurds — and ‘Never Again’
According to a recent poll, 37 percent of Americans believe that Benjamin Franklin — not Thomas Edison — invented the light bulb. But Americans’ historical amnesia also extends dangerously to the recent past.
Take the Kurdish people, centered in Iraq and Syria, but with a global diaspora perhaps three times as large as the worldwide Palestinian population.
An American consensus across the political spectrum seems to exist that the 2003 Iraq War was a disaster, with no redeeming results. But what this consensus ignores is Iraq’s Kurds. Where would they be today without the US intervention, as well as Israel’s support of the Kurdish cause?
The lesson about how close Iraq’s Kurds came to genocidal extinction may now be in the process of being forgotten in Syria, where a Kurdish minority — closely aligned with the US against ISIS — is again facing the threat of genocide, this time from Turkey and Bashar al-Assad.
The old saying goes that success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan. Well in Syria, US failure has had at least two fathers: the Obama administration, which wrote “red lines” in the sand and failed to enforce them, and now the feckless Trump administration.
According to a new piece in The Los Angeles Times, American troops who fought side-by-side with Syrian Kurds against ISIS are chagrined at the humiliating prospect of President Trump’s off-again, on-again decision to withdraw from Syria — even if doing so leaves our Kurdish allies at the mercy of Turkey’s cruel dictator.
An unreliable NATO ally and the enemy of Israel, Turkey’s Erdogan has, on occasion, threatened a genocidal solution to his cross-border Kurdish problem in Syria.
Just over a decade ago, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance featured an exhibit that was created for display at the UN in New York. It debuted on the 22nd anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s attack on Halabja, one of the worst military atrocities of the 20th century. There, Saddam’s cousin, nicknamed “Chemical Ali” Hassan al Majid, oversaw the gassing of 5,000 Kurdish men, women, and children. And more than 100,000 Kurds died in the following months, as 4,000 villages were destroyed in what was known as the Anfal campaign.
In 2010, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Wiesenthal Center’s Associate Dean, said: “What happened to the people 22 years ago, should never have happened to begin with, should never happen again to anyone else, and we have learned from our own experience that silence is admittance. If you do not speak up, even in a case here where our community is not involved, then the world becomes complicit.”
Today, the question remains why President Trump — despite the certainty that Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis would resign in protest — decided after a phone chat with Erdogan to remove our small contingent of troops from Syria before ISIS is really destroyed — and in the face of Erdogan’s repeated boasts that his forces with invade northeastern Syria, wiping out Kurdish freedom fighters. Another casualty will be northern Israel, which will be increasingly vulnerable to Iranian and Hezbollah attacks.
The late Simon Wiesenthal warned against a repeated mass murder of Kurds before his death in 2005 — yet Trump’s actions seem poised to allow that to happen.
“Never Again” echoes from the past as a warning for today. Remember the Kurds — our loyal allies. They do not deserve to be forgotten as we suffer a new fit of historical amnesia.
Historian Harold Brackman is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Africans, African Americans, and Jews (Africa World Press. 2015).