Earlier this month, U.S. President Donald J. Trump announced his decision to directly arm the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) against the Islamic State (which is essentially what Washington has been doing for the last three years).
Ever since the United States began conducting airstrikes against the extremist Sunni group and training and equipping YPG forces in 2014, Syria’s Kurds have played an important role in reversing I.S.’ territorial expansions and have been advancing toward the I.S. capital in Raqqa.
But there are inherent dangers in arming the YPG further.
To begin with, the decision did not sit well with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is convinced that Syria’s Kurds are providing arms and support to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), responsible for many terrorist acts on Turkish soil.
Turkey, an important NATO ally, has already begun to move away from the West because Ankara feels snubbed by what it perceives as a double-standard, moralist condemnation of a clamp-down on media and human rights following last July’s coup attempt to overthrow Erdoğan’s government, and because it believes that the United States is providing political shelter for the man it considers the mastermind of that putsch.
Moreover, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may have acquiesced to the plan under pressure from Russian President Vladimir Putin, but he certainly is not keen on the idea of a Kurdish army with ambitions of autonomy.
As I have previously stated, the Syrian Kurds’ main objective is and always has been full autonomy.
The Syrian Kurds want and will settle for nothing less than total federalism.
Assad, meanwhile, has made it clear that that is not going to happen, at least not under his watch.
That puts the Syrian Kurds at loggerheads with the Syrian government, and, should a tenuous peace treaty ever come into force in the country, it is a guarantee that the Kurds would immediately take up arms against Damascus.
Since the Kurds constitute about 10 percent of Syria’s 18-million-strong population, the ensuing civil war could turn out to be even more bloody and gruesome than which we are already seeing in the region.
Giving more arms to Syria’s Kurds is the political equivalence of pouring gasoline on an already out-of-control forest fire.
It won’t help, and it could make matters worse.
Containing I.S. is important, and, for now, the YPG has proven itself to be a useful tool in the fight to quell the jihadist fanatical group.
But, as we have already seen in the war-torn region, today’s allies often turn out to be tomorrow’s adversaries.
If the ultimate objective is to establish a semblance of stability and peace in Syria, arming that nation’s Kurds is not the solution.
Worse yet, it may even lead to the final unravelling of that battle-weary country.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected].