Professor Michael Gunter, secretary general of the EUTCC, has written a new opinion piece on US foreign policy towards the Kurdish issue, which we reproduce below:



Although there can be no doubt that compared to most other countries in the world today and in the past, American foreign policy has been motivated by relative honesty and intelligence, currently there are several specifics in that policy that can only be characterized as sheer stupidity. The first point has to do with American foreign policy towards the horrific civil war in Syria. Although President Obama’s basic instinct not to enter another disastrous Middle Eastern war is sound, his administration’s continuing attempt to support increasingly non-existent moderate oppositionists against the Assad regime is at the best based on wishful thinking because with one exception (the Kurds) such moderates in Syria no longer exist.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—now styling itself the Islamic State (IS)—has largely supplanted the moderates with the exception of the Kurds who have been battling the Islamists for more than two years. However, the United States opposes the Kurds because of a misguided belief that they are dividing the moderate opposition by insisting on Kurdish autonomy and probably even more are connected to the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that is largely in control of the Kurdish areas but is an off-shoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which the United States considers to be a terrorist movement. While the PKK link is real and largely explains the PYD’s success in fending off ISIS so far, the PYD is also a moderate secular movement and thus is everything the United States should want to support. This is even more so because for more than a year now, Turkey has been pursuing a serious peace process with the PKK. Thus, if the U.S. NATO ally Turkey is now dealing with the PKK/PYD, there is no further reason for the United States to shun it. American foreign policy has simply failed to catch up with the times and is thus shooting itself in the foot.

            However, the situation is worse because the United States continues to list the PKK as a terrorist movement. This unfortunate designation hinders the on-going Turkish-PKK peace process. The United States continues to so list the PKK out of deference to its NATO ally Turkey, but since Turkey is negotiating with the PKK the terrorist appellation is no longer appropriate and even hinders the negotiations. If the United States delisted the PKK, Turkey and the European Union (EU) would probably follow suit and the peace process benefit. Instead the United States even continues to denounce falsely such PKK negotiators as Sabri Ok, Remzi Kartal, and Adem Uzun, among others, as drug kingpins.

This leads to the additional misguided U.S. policy of continuing to list Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq and Jalal Talabani, the other main Iraqi Kurdish leader and now former president of Iraq, as terrorists. The reality of the matter, of course, is that these two Iraqi Kurdish leaders have long been two of the main U.S. supporters in the volatile Middle East. When the U.S. NATO ally Turkey failed to support the United States invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the Iraqi Kurds stepped to the front and did, thus supplying the badly needed northern front against Saddam Hussein that Turkey was denying. While almost 4500 American soldiers died in the Iraq War, not a single American soldier to this day has died in the Kurdish-ruled areas of Iraq. Yet the Kurds two main leaders are officially listed as terrorist because of the stupidity of the law that lists them so because of their earlier resistance to Saddam Hussein who was then supported by the United States. The late Nelson Mandela similarly fell afoul of the U.S. terrorist list for many years. However, once the stupid label was lifted, negotiations were able to commence.

The stupidity of American foreign policy is even greater on the Kurdish issue as the United States continues to oppose Iraqi Kurdish independence in favor of non-existent Iraqi unity. The Iraqi Kurds have done everything they possibly could to make post-Saddam Iraq work, but recent events have shown that this artificially created state is now probably irrevocably split into its Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish parts. Trying to force the Kurds back into a non-workable situation simply does not make sense. This is particularly so when the other two parts of former Iraq (Shia controlled still official Iraq, and the new self-styled Sunni Islamic State morphed out of ISIS) are foes of the United States while the Kurds are practically begging for an American alliance. Indeed to accept the Kurdish offer of alliance would no longer alienate Turkey as that state itself has now officially declared that it would accept Iraqi Kurdish independence on top of the economic and political cooperation that the two have enjoyed now for some time. Once again American foreign policy is badly behind developments.

            Illustrating that American foreign policy errors are not limited to just the Middle East, one should mention the U.S. reactions towards Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Although one would agree that Russia has been too aggressive in furthering its perceived rights that were only accidentally lost when the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, (the tragic destruction of the Malaysian airliner due to Russian support for pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists probably being the most recent example) the U.S. threat of stronger sanctions against Russia and criticism of the EU for failing to follow suit reeks of hypocrisy. U.S. trade with Russia is minimal compared with the EU, so the United States stands to lose little by bringing sanctions, while the EU would lose a great deal if it did.

Professor Michael M. Gunter

Tennessee Technological University