“The United States is deeply disappointed that the Kurdistan Regional Government decided to conduct today a unilateral referendum on independence, including in areas outside of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in September.
The United States State Department says what the State Department says, but what they say is usually wrong.
The State Department seems to have two rules when it comes to territorial disputes in the Middle East: 1) Borders, however they were determined, are inviolate. If the British, French, Ottomans, etc. decided a century ago the lines needed to be where they were, regardless of what peoples live within those borders, then that is the way they should stay, for all time. 2) In contrast, the border of Israel is always negotiable, although it can never be allowed to expand in favor of the Israelis.
The first of these rules is just foolish; the second may be a result of the State Department’s strange and disturbing obsession. Neither of these rules is a logical decision based on the U.S.’ national interest. The State Department’s position on the referendum in Kurdistan, more than anything else, clearly demonstrates this.
The Kurdish people, including virtually every single Kurdish group, are heavily pro-American in sentiment. This is especially true of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), whose multi-party system of government has been allied with the U.S. since Desert Storm in 1991. The KRG forces — the Peshmerga — physically protected hundreds of Americans, including pilots during the Gulf War, and have provided crucial intelligence to American forces against Saddam Hussein, the Shia Islamist Iranian backed terrorist militias, and the genocidal Islamist group, ISIS. Most Kurdish groups that fight on the Middle East battlefield have a female contingent, which more or less guarantees the development of a non-misogynist Kurdish society. Because, of course, Kurdish women have guns, and thanks to their extensive training, they know how to use them. Unlike virtually every other ethnic/religious group in the area — excepting the Israelis, of course — the Kurds have consistently acted to protect ethnic or religious minorities from total slaughter. Unlike many other Muslim peoples in the Middle East, the Kurds seem largely immune to the appeal of Islamist groups; their ethnic interests consistently trump their religious ones. In Iraq and Syria, it is no exaggeration to say that the Kurdish groups are the Muslim moderates we have been looking for.
The Kurdish groups also have all the same enemies that the U.S. has. The Iranian mullahs, who rule over millions of Kurds, hate the Iranian Kurds for their unwillingness to support the Iranian theocracy, and hate the other Kurds for their support of the Iranian Kurds, for their religious moderation, and for their pro-U.S. sentiment. The Iraqi Popular Movement Forces, largely controlled by the Iranians, which in their prior configurations were responsible for the death or injury of thousands of Americans, have threatened and fought the Kurds. The Iraqi central government, now dominated by Iran, likewise dislikes them. The Assad regime of Syria, likewise dominated by Iran, fears its own Kurdish groups, who might create a viable non-Assad and moderate Syrian state. Assad is also no fan of the KRG, some of whose contingent parts support the Syrian Kurds. Meanwhile, the KRG has led the fight in Iraq against ISIS, and the Syrian Kurds are leading the U.S. moderate coalition opposed to ISIS in Syria. President Erdogan of Turkey, the crazy, anti-American, Islamist dictator, who lives in fear of the increasing Kurdish demographic in Turkey, despises the Kurds. The fact that Turkey continues to be a technical ally of the U.S., in NATO, is in economic lingo, a sunk cost no longer of any importance to future U.S. decision making.
At this point in time, the nation of Iraq, as we knew it, no longer exists in the real world. What remains, in the area formerly known as Iraq, is an Iraqi Shia Arab central government, now dominated by the Shia Islamist regime in Iran, a shrinking ISIS Sunni Arab (Islamist) Caliphate, and the KRG. Of these three remaining governments, which deserves U.S. support? The answer is obvious. If the U.S. chooses instead to back the Iraqi central government, is this likely to bolster U.S. national interests in Iraq or the Middle East? Not while the Iranians dominate the Iraqi central government.
To sum up, the following U.S. national interests are implicated here: 1) The U.S. has an interest in assuring its own physical security and its citizenry from foreign attack; 2) The U.S. has an interest in bolstering the interests and security of its allies — i.e., positive reinforcement — and alternatively, in undermining or punishing its opponents — i.e., positive punishment — so as to incentivize pro-U.S. policies. Both interests argue for U.S. support of a KRG state, for the reasons I have listed above. In fact, both interests argue for the largest KRG state possible, which would include the disputed oil rich territories, like the city of Kirkuk, which the Iranian-run Iraqi militias and the Iraqi army just seized.
So, why did the State Department push against U.S. national interests in Iraq by opposing the Kurdish referendum, which passed in the KRG with around 93 percent of the vote? Why did it make such a statement, certainly knowing that this would encourage Iraq, Iran and others to move against the KRG? And why did the State Department (almost certainly) advise the Trump administration to not take sides in the dispute that followed between the Iraqis and the Iranians against the Kurds, which resulted in American weaponry being used to push the Kurds out of about half of the Iraqi territory they controlled?
Because the State Department has absolutely no understanding of the United States and its vital national interests in the Middle East.
It is long past time for the State Department to be reformed. A good start would be for the State Department to do what the Defense Department routinely does — implement after action reports, to determine what policies were successful, and what weren’t — something that has long been promoted by AEI scholar Michael Rubin. In State Department parlance, I must state for the record that I am more than “deeply disappointed” by the U.S. State Department’s continued poor performance. I firmly believe there should be consequences.
Adam Turner is the General Counsel and Legislative Affairs Director for the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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