In 48 hours, 23,000 square kilometers of territory change hands, an independence bid backfires, and US foreign policy goes back to square one. All in all, just another day in the Middle East. The collapse of the drive for Kurdish independence kicks up yet more chaos in the region, darkening an already grim outlook for the area. Some, in the midst of all this madness, might be tempted to claim that the US should just get the hell out. They would be dead wrong, of course. In a world as connected as this one, the chaos will come to get us. Only America can create the order we need.
Now how should that order come about? It will come about through a Kurdish state. If done properly, a Kurdish state will stabilize the Iraqi situation and protect US interests in the region.
Unfortunately, current US foreign policy has been rather uninspiring. As of time of writing, aside from a few mumbled comments about ‘deep disappointment’ and a declaration of neutrality—ahem, passivity— from the president, the US has hesitated to involve itself in this dangerously escalating situation. Understandably, the folks at State Department feel a bit miffed about Kurdish defiance of their wishes, but their grief therapy session needs to end at some point. The US’s failure to take more decisive measures to halt Iraqi aggression and Kurdish impulsiveness is why this situation continues to escalate.
The US must, at a bare minimum, use its collective heft in both Kurdistan and Iraq, to bring both powers to a standstill. Then, after achieving a modicum of stability, we need to begin the work towards establishing a Kurdish State in Iraqi Kurdistan. Due to the complicated nature of statecraft, this will have to be a much more long-term goal. However, there are selling points for the various players in the region.
Take the case of Iraq. While allowing the Kurdish semi-autonomous region to break away would be embarrassing for President Abadi, when contrasted with the possibility of fighting a sustained insurgency—as might occur if Iraq wishes to fully curtail Kurdish separatist sentiment—a Kurdish state sounds a whole lot more appealing. Iraq would be incapable of maintaining an offensive conflict for long without Western support, which would not be forthcoming in an Iraqi-Kurdish conflict, and would have to settle for a stalemate. Kurdistan presents Iraq with a shameful peace, but no Kurdistan presents Iraq with a humiliating war. Kurdistan is better for Iraq.
The Turks have gotten into quite a tizzy about Kurdish independence. They expressed adamant opposition to the establishment of a Kurdish state long before the Kurdish independence referendum took place. But in actuality, a Kurdish state in Iraq is in their best interest. For a long time now, Kurdish separatists have fought the Turkish government because they have had no other place to make a state. Providing the Kurds with a country would be the greatest blow yet to the separatist cause. Why would separatists fight for a Kurdistan when they can just hop across the border? Sure, many would prefer their own hometowns to also be independent, but how many would actually be willing to die for that? Turkey could let those who wish to be free, go. A Kurdish state is in the best interest of Turkey.
But the interests of other countries don’t dictate US foreign policy. US interests do. And on the Kurdish question, the US should support a Kurdish state because it is good for America.
A United Iraq is not in US interests. Modern Iraqi history is one ethnic or religious group oppressing the others. Sunni Saddam and the Ba’ath party oppressed Shiites and Kurds, and Shia Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki repressed Sunnis. Multiculturalism finds no warm welcome in Iraq. No significant national or socio-cultural Iraqi identity exists to sufficiently counter the sectarian pressures that continuously plague Iraq. And no wonder. Iraq is an artifact of the age of imperialism. Why waste time and money preserving this diplomatic dinosaur? By creating Kurdistan, we will bring Iraq into the post-colonial era, stabilizing it for the better for US interests because less internal strife will mean less US propping-up needed.
By creating Kurdistan, we are also guaranteeing a bastion of US support in the Mesopotamian region of the Middle East. From their dramatic showdown with ISIS in Kobani, to their heroic rescue of Mt. Sinjar, the Kurds have proven themselves to be a reliable projector of US interests in the region. A Kurdish state will ensure that when we need something done, the Kurds will be there with us. Israel is distant. The Gulf States are incompetent. Iraq is Iranian. Kurdistan is what we need, where we need it.
More fundamentally though, the Kurdish question calls for moral considerations. The Kurds have never been rulers in their own land for all of their 5000 year-long history. They have dreamt of a homeland for generations. They have defied their own allies and died for the sake of a state that they knew they might never see. In return, they have been oppressed, beaten, battered, but never broken. Why must they wait and suffer any longer? They shouldn’t. Instead, the US should set them free because the moral case for Kurdish self-determination is unimpeachable; the Kurdish drive, unshakable; and their ties with those who will free them, unbreakable.
As we have seen, the case for Kurdistan is strong. The case for US support is equally so. Before concluding though, let’s take the case of the Kurds and past cases of liberation movements in the Middle East to compare what we did then with what we’re doing now. In 2011, the Egyptian people poured out onto the streets against longtime strongman and US ally, Hosni Mubarak, and the American government supported them. In 2011, the Syrian people rose up against longtime dictator Bashar al-Assad, and America supported them. In 2011, the Libyan people rose up against Muammar Qaddafi and the West supported them. It’s now, only six years later, and suddenly the West gets cold feet for self-determination. Why the change? Why are peaceful protests spurned and referendums rejected while violent rebellions encouraged? Must the Kurds offer a blood libation for our televisions before we will rise in their defense?
Dear reader, if we truly believe in sound foreign policy, why do we spurn our allies? If we truly believe that democracy is the highest form of governance, then why is the voice of the Kurdish people being silenced? And if we truly believe in the inalienable rights of the governed, then why does this abusive marriage to Iraq continue?
There is a time for pragmatism. There is a time for principle. Kurdistan is a chance for both. So, let’s seize the day and end the 5000-year night.