Why Did Trump Sell Out Kurds?

On October 6, the presidents of America and Turkey spoke by phone. There is no transcript of what was said, but the White House issued a press release announcing the decision of Turkey’s president to attack northern Syria, and that of the United States to withdraw from it.

Kurds live in northern Syria, which we call Rojava—western Kurdistan. An American and a Turk felt free to talk over our heads as if we were worthless deaf-mutes. Turks treat us like non-persons all the time—but it was shocking to see President Trump endorse their glaring bigotry.

That glaring bigotry ignored the close cooperation that had been formed between the Kurdish-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and the United States that enabled the Global Coalition to defeat ISIS. Why abandon an ally to Turkey-backed jihadi cutthroats that sacrificed 11,000 of its daughters and sons to help heal communities like Orlando, Florida?

Patriotic Kurds and their friends have been asking a variation of this question ever since. Because I live in the same city as Trump does, I have gotten the same question as well. I usually mutter: the answer is above my pay grade. But I wish I knew more about human psychology to understand the workings of President Trump’s mind.

I stopped pleading ignorance after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the Turkish invasion of northern Syria. After the vote, Congressional leaders met with President Trump to see if he would reverse course to accommodate their bipartisan outrage.

The meeting didn’t go well, but revealed a credible answer to the question that has been on the minds of the Kurds at least. Mr. Trump, apparently, didn’t want to be second-guessed. He told the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that the Kurds were “communists” and wondered, mischievously I suspect, if the Democrats liked that.

It is no news that President Trump doesn’t like communists. There may be many reasons he dislikes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—the newly elected representative from New York, but the one he highlights the most is that she is a socialist—she calls herself a democratic socialist. In fact, he thinks the socialists have taken over the Democratic Party and believes his reelection is a slam-dunk.

While the jury is out on the transformation of Democratic Party into a socialist one, it behooves us, especially the Kurds and their friends, to question the credentials of Democratic Union Party (Partiya Yekitiya Demokrat—PYD) that controls northern Syria. Is it really the communist party of Rojava?

Let me hasten to note that the phrase, “PYD is a communist party,” is a talking point of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Another is that PYD, or its ideological kin, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), is more dangerous than ISIS.

President Trump has recently repeated both claims. In fact, the talking points of President Erdogan are now sold as the talking points of President Trump, as Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Foreign Minister of Turkey, did at TRT World Forum on October 21.

Call Turks what you may, but getting the president of the United States to do their bidding zooms to a breathtaking stratospheric class of its own.

Fear of communism may suffice to throw an ally under the bus, but the facts of PYD tell another story. The Kurdish party doesn’t rejoice in gore, doesn’t practice slavery, doesn’t force women to cover themselves from head to toe, and doesn’t declare the female sex half wits, as Islamic State did when it ruled an area of the Middle East as large as Britain.

To the contrary, Kurdish women are equal citizens of Rojava and fight along side of men. Their party follows Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war. It is gender neutral or some might say practices affirmative action to make up for the gender gap that prevails in the traditional Kurdish society.

By Middle-Eastern standards, PYD is an experiment in libertarianism. Murray Bookchin of Vermont is its spiritual Godfather. He was anti-capitalist and a supporter of Bernie Sanders when the presidential candidate ran for his first public office, the post of mayoralty in Burlington, Vermont.

And yet, all that good is not really democratic. The socialism that PYD practices is dogmatic. The town-hall style democracy it practices has only one party, PYD, on its ballots.

The whole thing boils down to a simple question that Henry Kissinger asked of Iran: is it a nation or a cause? If Rojava is a cause, it is not democratic. If it is a part of the Kurdish nation, PYD should be a party—but not the only one that is running it.

One more thing: the Kurds of PYD, in spite of their shortcomings, are children of the Enlightenment. When you talk to them, they will quote you Rosa Luxemburg, Alexandra Kollontia and Plato. Outside of Israel, inside the Middle East, among the ruling circles, no one else comes even close to them.

If we want the Middle East to be a source of okay news as opposed to an ongoing horror show that threatens distant shores, investing in Plato or protecting his disciples is no brainer at all.

Kani Xulam is a political activist based in Washington D.C. He runs the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN).