FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Is There Still Hope for Rojava?

As the U.S. foreign policy establishment grapples with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, officials in Washington are overlooking what could be the biggest impact of his decision: the effect on the revolution in Rojava, the most promising democratic experiment in the Middle East.

Since Trump announced on December 19 that U.S. forces in Syria are returning home, most of the foreign policy establishment has lapsed into a kind of collective panic about the geopolitical implications for U.S. power and influence in the Middle East. Although some U.S. officials support Trump’s decision, arguing that a direct U.S. military presence in Syria is no longer necessary, most foreign policy experts portray Trump’s move as a victory for U.S. enemies and a sacrifice of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the U.S.-backed forces who are fighting the Islamic State in Syria.

“A precipitous U.S. troop withdrawal will undermine critical U.S. interests in Syria,” argues former U.S. official Mona Yacoubian, who is now a senior advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Throughout the debate, U.S. officials have done little to consider the ramifications of Trump’s decision for the revolution in Rojava. Without U.S. forces positioned in Rojava, the Kurdish-led region in northeastern Syria, the Syrian Kurds who are leading a social revolution there face an imminent attack from Turkey, which has repeatedly threatened to eradicate them and their revolution.

“If we leave now, the Kurds are going to get slaughtered,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned.

The revolution in Rojava is one of the few positive developments to emerge from the civil war in Syria. For the past several years, the Syrian Kurds have been creating self-governing communities that involve the democratic participation of their residents, including women and ethnic minorities. Committed to the principles of feminism, environmentalism, and democratic confederalism, the Syrian Kurds have united these communities in an autonomous democratic federation across northern Syria.

Sadly, U.S. officials have never fully supported the revolution in Rojava. After the Syrian Kurds announced the creation of their new autonomous region in March 2016, U.S. officials spoke outagainst it. This past November, U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey told Congress that the area is primarily important as leverage in negotiations with the Syrian government. The U.S. relationship with the Syrian Kurds, Jeffrey said, is “tactical and temporary.”

Even against the backdrop of this limited U.S. support, Trump’s recent decision is a serious betrayal. Over the past several years, U.S. officials have repeatedly praised the Syrian Kurds as their most effective partners in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, pledging not to abandon them. Last September, Trump praised the Kurds as “great, great people,” insisting that “we have to help them.”

“Tens of thousands of Kurds died fighting ISIS,” Trump said. “They died for us and with us.”

With his latest announcement, Trump has thrown all of these notions into disarray, leaving administration officials backtracking from their previous commitments. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who had previously called the Syrian Kurds “great partners” and pledged to include them in future negotiations to end the war in Syria, now evades questions about whether the United States has an obligation to help them.

National Security Advisor John Bolton recently said that the U.S. withdrawal is conditional on a Turkish pledge not to attack the Kurds, but he confirmed that “we are going to withdraw from northeastern Syria.”

Given the upcoming U.S. withdrawal, the Syrian Kurds are facing an existential threat from Turkey. For years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been threatening to eradicate the Syrian Kurds, portraying them as terrorists no different from the Islamic State.

Erdogan once said that “we will do everything and anything we need to do to eliminate the Kurds,” according to former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Early last year, the Turkish government acted on its threats, invading and conquering Afrin, one of the three cantons of Rojava. Some 200,000 residents fled the area and an estimated 500 civilians were killed. More than 800 Kurdish fighters died trying to defend the area.

Another Turkish incursion into northern Syria would be disastrous for the Syrian Kurds and the revolution in Rojava.

Some U.S. officials have indicated that they can help the Syrian Kurds by keeping them supplied with weapons. The Emergency Committee for Rojava, a recently organized support network, is calling on Congress to provide economic, political, and military assistance.

If it really is the mission of the United States to help democratic movements around the world, then U.S. officials will come to the assistance of the Syrian Kurds. The next moves by the Trump administration may very well determine whether the revolution in Rojava and the people leading it can survive.

This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

 

More articles by:

Edward Hunt writes about war and empire. He has a PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
July 17, 2019
Manuel García, Jr.
Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change
Charles Pierson
Sofi’s Choice
Gary Leupp
Epstein, Jane Doe, and Trump
Rebecca Gordon
I Had an Abortion and Now I’m Not Ashamed
Peter Bolton
In the US and Brazil, Two Trends Underline the Creeping Fascism of Both Governments
Michael Kidder
“Go Back Where You Came From:” an Episode From Canada
Steve Early - Rand Wilson
How Big Strike 30 Years Ago Aided Fight for Single Payer
John W. Whitehead
Sexual Predators in the Power Elite
Michael Welton
Teach the Children Well: the Unrealized Vision In Teaching and Learning in the Residential Schools
Khury Petersen-Smith
Iran’s Not the Aggressor, the US Is
Russell Mokhiber
Kip Sullivan and Dr. Matthew Hahn on How Value Based Programs Are Undermining Medicare and Single Payer
George Ochenski
A Fearless and Free Press is Essential to Our Democracy
Lawrence Wittner
Billionaires and American Politics
Dean Baker
Cheap Shots at the Trump Economy
July 16, 2019
Conn Hallinan
The World Needs a Water Treaty
Kenneth Surin
Britain Grovels: the Betrayal of the British Ambassador
Christopher Ketcham
This Land Was Your Land
Gary Leupp
What Right Has Britain to Seize an Iranian Tanker Off Spain?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Democratic Virtues in Electing a President
Thomas Knapp
Free Speech Just isn’t That Complicated
Binoy Kampmark
The Resigning Ambassador
Howard Lisnoff
Everybody Must Get Stoned
Nicky Reid
Nukes For Peace?
Matt Johnson
The United States of Overreaction
Cesar Chelala
Children’s Trafficking and Exploitation is a Persistent, Dreary Phenomenon
Martin Billheimer
Sylvan Shock Theater
July 15, 2019
David Altheide
The Fear Party
Roger Harris
UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Bachelet’s Gift to the US: Justifying Regime Change in Venezuela
John Feffer
Pyongyang on the Potomac
Vincent Kelley
Jeffrey Epstein and the Collapse of Europe
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Hissy-Fit Over Darroch Will Blow a Chill Wind Across Britain’s Embassies in the Middle East
Binoy Kampmark
Juggling with the Authoritarians: Donald Trump’s Diplomatic Fake Book
Dean Baker
The June Jobs Report and the State of the Economy
Michael Hudson – Bonnie Faulkner
De-Dollarizing the American Financial Empire
Kathy Kelly
Remnants of War
B. Nimri Aziz
The Power of Our Human Voice: From Marconi to Woods Hole
Elliot Sperber
Christianity Demands a Corpse 
Weekend Edition
July 12, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Skull of Death: Mass Media, Inauthentic Opposition, and Eco-Existential Reality in a Pre-Fascist Age of Appeasement
T.J. Coles
“Strategic Extremism”: How Republicans and Establishment Democrats Use Identity Politics to Divide and Rule
Rob Urie
Toward an Eco-Socialist Revolution
Gregory Elich
How Real is the Trump Administration’s New Flexibility with North Korea?
Jason Hirthler
The Journalists Do The Shouting
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pâté Politics in the Time of Trump and Pelosi
Andrew Levine
The Electoral Circus as the End of Its Initial Phase Looms
David Swanson
Earth Over the Brink
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail