The United States appears to be giving up on its Middle East foreign policy, if it ever had one. Currently the administration of President Trump has been caught up in a very virulent domestic political fight designed to weaken the president and lay ground work for the off-year election, regardless of consequences to the nation or the world.
While political maneuvering is not unusual, what we are seeing now is very troubling since it is causing the government to turn in on itself and leaving a tremendous leadership vacuum throughout the world, in particular the Middle East. While this withdrawal began with the previous administration and many of the problems can be laid at its feet, the current administration now owns it and must correct the errors.
The worst error has been the abandonment of the Kurdish people. I say worst because this was a self-inflicted wound. It was further an abandonment of our principles, our commitment to self-determination and our support for democracy. Actions by the US can repair this error, but the window is closing quickly.
The first thing the US must understand is the consequences our actions have, as well as the impact. Since the beginning of US involvement in Iraq, the Kurdistan Region has developed separately from Baghdad. Cultural differences exist between the West and the people and government of Kurdistan, but they are nowhere near those between the West and most Arab states.
When ISIS came on the scene US policy became myopic – the only thing that mattered was defeating ISIS. We had by that time removed much of our military and could only watch with horror as the Iraq Army collapsed and a large amount of modern US equipment fell into the hands of ISIS fighters. The only good news at the time was the response of Kurdish Peshmerga and its ability to stop the onslaught.
In Syria we saw this equipment being used by ISIS in Kobane which required US air support as well as help from the KRG. It was here also that US eyes should been opened. It became obvious that Turkey was at least tacitly supporting ISIS, in some cases directly.
In Syria we also saw the Russian bear once again show its teeth to support a regime in direct contradiction to US desires. Another enemy that had desires on expansion, Iran, then took the lack of direct US engagement as a sign that the road was clear. Hezbollah and Hamas were soon active in Syria soon to be followed by Iranian-backed militias roaming freely across Iraq and supporting the counterattacks on ISIS. While these Iranian back forces, known as the PMF, did in fact join in the fight they were also responsible for the slaughter of thousands of innocent Sunni civilians. This last was also a point in which the US should have seen problems. Adding to the evidence that our foreign policy was not effective was the fact that these militias were using US equipment given them by the Iraqi government.
The last straw should have been following the Kurdistan referendum on independence, when the Iraqi government used US equipment to attack Kirkuk and other disputed territories in direct violation of US law and the agreement governing the use of this equipment. The US has yet to do anything other than mouth platitudes and make a big show of wanting the two sides to work things out.
What the US government must now come to understand is that Baghdad and Erbil will never come together, not now. The actions of the US government have removed that scenario from any further consideration.
Russia, Iran, and Turkey have supplanted the US in the region and all answers to the problems will come through those countries. Can the US regain a foothold in the region? Yes, but it will come through support of the KRG and Rojava. The plain and simple fact is the only ally the US has is the only one they ever had – the Kurds. For the sake of all I hope the US comes to understand this soon.
Paul Davis is a retired US Army military intelligence and former Soviet analyst. He is a consultant to the American intelligence community specializing in the Middle East with a concentration on Kurdish affairs. Currently he is the president of the consulting firm JANUS Think in Washington D.C.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.