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The right side of history
July 20, 2014 - Harry Eagar
NOTE: I began writing this post on July 3, then set it aside while on a trip to Nevada. Just as well. I have been advocating a free and independent Great Kurdistan for a long time -- long before RtO began in 2008 -- and no one agrees with me. So rushing isn't the issue.
But delay allows me to reference the opinion piece by Zalmay Khalilzad, which confirms -- if it needed confirmation -- the intellectual sterility and practical foolishness of the Bush foreign policy team. Not that the rest have been better, as this post will show:
It isn't always possible to have your political principles and be a practical politician, too. I suppose the most dramatic example in our history (setting aside the initial question of slavery and nationhood vs. antislavery and several nations at the Constitutional Convention) was the choice between the violently anticommunist Germany and the would-be subversive and antidemocratic USSR in the late '30s.
President Roosevelt chose to oppose the Germans, because Germany was an aggressor state, and the USSR was not.
Neutrality, or even standoffishness, was not a possible alternative, although millions of Americans wanted it to be.
Many rightwingers disagreed. They thought communism was the worst -ism there could be and wanted to fight alongside Germany to overthrow Bolshevism. Among well-known Americans who felt this way was George Patton. However, he followed orders and fought the Germans. But he was never reconciled to the idea.
In the foreign policy apparatus of the time, there were several influential voices who considered war with Germany both inevitable and the proper course of action; but their voices were unheard by the public. Among people who did speak out to influence public opinion, there was no agreement.
Newspapermen who had reported from Germany were almost united in understanding who the lead enemy was, but politicians were not nearly so united. Political opinion ranged from pure pacifism to admiration for Hitlerism to admiration for the Soviet Union. The latter required switches in direction depending upon whether Russia and Germany were allied or not. Very very few advocated war before war began.
Most controversies regarding foreign relations are less clearcut than Hitlerism, so it is not surprising that, for example, Americans were always uncertain about the best approach to take regarding Irish independence or the status of the Panama Canal.
In retrospect, and using Panama as a good example, it appears that the United States would have been better off supporting autonomy and local self-determination most of the time. Most of the time, though, it did not. At worst, by refusing to support nationalism in Vietnam, we ended up losing a good-sized war, killing millions of innocents and damaging the reputation of America in most of the world.
Nationalism won anyway.
It is usually claimed that the Kurds are the most numerous national group without a state of their own (this may not be true, as there are some obscure but numerous non-Han groups inside China). For some reason, the status of the Kurds does not resonate with Americans. I have never seen a Free Kurdistan bumper sticker like the Free Tibet stickers you sometimes see (at least in the hippie zones).
Yet the Kurds have never done anything to irritate us. They have never picked the "wrong" side in an international dispute, and they have been cruelly persecuted.
Why don't we care about Kurds?
At one time, advocating a free and independent Great Kurdistan would have caused resentment in Turkey, a state the United States was concerned to conciliate and strengthen because it was on the border of the USSR. This continued despite Turkey's genocidal policy towards the Kurds within its borders.
But for more than 20 years there has been no good reason to conciliate Turkey. The other three states that need breaking up to create Kurdistan are no friends of the United States and have never been.
Breaking up Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey is going to happen if southwest Asia is ever to be organized on national, rather than colonialist principles; and reorganizing southwest Asia is a requirement for establishing stability there, if that can ever be done.
As far as I know, no one in the American government, under any administration, has advocated a free Kurdistan. Nor have any academics nor any of the policy providers in the think tanks.
It would have been cheap and easy to have backed the Kurds. If we had asked and given them some modest help, they would have bumped off Saddam for us and them.
Now even Khalilzad is wagging his finger through the opinion pages of the New York Times and admonishing the government to prepare for a breakaway Kurdistan in Iraq. Why couldn't he have suggested that to Incurious George when he was ambassador in Baghdad?
He still doesn't get it. He prefers the colonialist structure of Iraq, although our invasion made that impossible to sustain.
It may be bloody -- it probably will be -- but circumstances are moving in favor of a Kurdish state. There is nothing America can do to stop it, and, sadly, nothing now it could do to support it.
History was on the side of the Kurds, and America could have been on the side of history.
And of what we often claim -- without much evidence to show we are sincere; think of East Timor -- to be our founding principles.
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