On October 7 when Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from the North of Syria, he gave the go-ahead to Erdogan to set the Turkish army on the Syrian Kurds. American leaders have cynically decided to abandon the Kurds after having relied on them to win back the territories controlled by Daesh. Much of the world has been shocked by this, and rightly so.
The unlimited cynicism of the great powers is nothing new. The peoples of the Middle East – in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran… – have endured war and destruction for more than forty years. The imperialist powers are directly responsible. The US, the world’s police, is calling the shots in the Middle East today but has followed or preceded countries at different times. France and Great Britain were the first to divide this strategic region that is so rich in oil. They drew arbitrary borders, splitting the Kurdish population into four in the process. The same criminal policy not only continues but is intensifying.
As early as 1979, the CIA financed and equipped the Islamic militia who were fighting against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. Their support gave Osama Bin Laden his training and allowed him to build a solid network before he turned against his masters and founded al-Qaeda. Wiping out jihadism is now being used as justification for military intervention and security laws in the name of the war on terror. But jihadism is a direct outcome of imperialist maneuvering.
In 2003, Bush Jr used the 9/11 attacks as a pretext for invading Iraq, even if the Iraqi people were in no way responsible. In 2011, the democrat president, Obama, withdrew the US troops from Iraq. But the US army and special forces didn’t leave the “sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq” that Obama spoke of. What they left behind them was a people and a country scarred and destroyed by civil war, a country they had split into faith-based zones where the Islamist militia of various denominations flourished. Among them was the Iraqi al-Qaeda and its leader al-Baghdadi, the future founder of Daesh.
Despite what they claimed, the actions of the great powers when the Arab Spring reached Syria in 2011 were not intended as support for the social and democratic aspirations of the population against Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship. After a careful period of observation, the great powers hoped to use the situation to try and replace Assad’s regime by one that would be more willing to serve their interests. They intended to replace social protest by civil and inter-religious war. They intervened directly but also indirectly through their regional allies who were rivals with one another: Saudi Arabia and Turkey but also Qatar, Egypt and Iran–even though Iran was ostracized by the US. The intervention of local powers, both encouraged and tempered by the US, turned Syria into a battlefield between warring militia. Western leaders make speeches about democracy, the rights of people, of women and oppressed minorities. But their actions speak louder than their words.
One of the militia, Daesh, started in Iraq and managed to gain sway over a vast territory by proclaiming the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis). The great powers had to rethink their position. They brought dictator Assad back into play but they also formed a coalition to fight Daesh. The US and its allies used the Kurdish militia that had been formed in Syria, which they guided with their military advisors and supported with their aircraft. At the cost of great loss, the Kurdish militia YPG (People’s Protection Units) and the FDS (Syrian Democratic Forces) managed to win back, town by town, the territory that Daesh occupied.
Like the Kurdish nationalists in Iraq, the Kurdish nationalists in Syria hoped to use this alliance to keep the small self-governed area in the North of Syria that they had managed to gain through civil war. This hope was short-lived. We don’t know the details of the bargaining that went on between Trump and Erdogan or the calculations made by the Americans. We do know that the US sacrificed the Kurds to satisfy their Turkish allies who were hostile to having an autonomous Kurdistan right by its borders. A Kurdistan that was ready to fight to put itself back on the map. And the US, through Turkey, is once more an actor in the Syrian civil war, even if it had to start the war again to be there.
The betrayal of the Kurds is typical of the world order imposed by the great powers, an order in which there is no place for the self-determination of peoples. Whether their policy affects Kurds, Palestinians or other peoples, the great powers only act in their own interests and that of their companies, of the oil trusts and of others.
Not just Syria and Iraq but also the Middle East in general are clear examples of how the domination of imperialism only leads to chaos and permanent war. And their domination carries the risk of plunging the whole world into war.