Desperate to quell the Islamic State (I.S.) before stepping down as president in January, Barack Obama has been mulling over the idea of supplying arms to Syria’s Kurdish fighters who are currently combatting the terrorist group.
Initially, the plan calls for providing the Syrian Kurds with small arms and ammunition, and some other supplies, for specific missions, but no heavy weapons such as anti-tank or anti-aircraft weapons.
But while eradicating I.S. should be a priority for all civilized nations, tossing in more weapons into an already volatile amalgam of diverse ethnicities, religions and ideologies of diametrically opposed factions is a very bad plan indeed.
To begin with, doing so would only further alienate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been hesitant to become militaristically involved in Syria precisely because of his distrust of the Syrian Kurds, who he believes are helping the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), responsible for many terrorist acts on Turkish soil.
Erdoğan has already begun to move away from the West because he feels snubbed by what he perceives as a double-standard, moralist condemnation of his clamp-down on media and human rights following last July’s coup attempt to overthrow his government, and because he believes that the United States is providing political shelter for the man he considers the mastermind of that putsch.
If the West is to win its battle against I.S., and reinstate stability in Syria and the rest of the Middle East, it will need the support and backing of Turkey, which has always been a pivotal force in the region.
Arming a group that Turkey perceives as an enemy is not going to accomplish that objective.
But there is another reason why arming the Syrian Kurds is a bad idea.
While the Kurds have been directing their latest push against Raqqa (the Islamic State’s de facto capital in northern Syria), they have also been expanding their territory in other parts of Syria with an eye to eventually establishing an independent state, an idea that does not sit well with Turkey, Iran or any of the other players on the Middle Eastern geopolitical horizon.
And while the Obama administration has tried to paint the Kurds as valiant heroes (mainly because it sees them as its most effective ground partner in the fight against I.S.), the truth is, the Kurds — both in Syria and Iraq — are far from guilt-free when it comes to the brutal atrocities and blatant corruption that are endemic in the region.
Although often portrayed by the Western press as courageous freedom fighters, Kurdish militants have been accused by Amnesty International of any number of war crimes, including the brutal razing of Arab homes after they forced I.S. militants out of villages in northern Iraq.
Aided and abetted by the United States, the Kurdish militias have, according to a recent Amnesty report, burned entire villages to the ground and even participated in ethnic cleansing exercises against Iraqi and Syrian Shi’ites.
In many parts where the Kurds have pushed back I.S. forces, they have retaliated against locals for perceived or real atrocities by the Islamic State against their fighters, and in too many of these cases, the West simply turns a blind eye, chalking up the carnage as the price it has to pay to keep Kurdish support.
The Kurds in Iraq and Syria have made no secret of their emboldening separatist sentiments and ambitions for statehood.
This is a dangerous scenario because the Kurds now have a sense of impunity that will be hard to curtail when and if peace is ever reinstated in the region.
There are no easy answers when it comes to trying to find a peaceful resolution to the chaos that is Syria, but as Obama should have learned from his disastrous ventures into Libya, adding more guns to the mix is no way to calm the fighting.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]