This Decision Will Live in Infamy: Betraying Syria’s Kurds and Christians
Tuesday, the White House announced an astounding decision. It declared victory over ISIS and started withdrawing US troops from Northeastern Syria. This is a complete reversal of US policy announced as recently as Monday. We had repeatedly committed to support our allies, the Syrian Democratic Forces. We said we would back them during the ongoing fight against ISIS and other Islamist forces in Syria. And against threats from Turkey and the Assad regime, as part of seeking a lasting peace in Syria.
The pluralistic and democratic values of these allies are crucial. They’re the only viable antidote to Islamist dominance and ISIS. The US military and intelligence agencies all agree. A US troop presence is critical. First, to stabilize Syria. Second, to stop ISIS from coming back. And finally to keep Iran from having its long desired highway to the Mediterranean (and Israel).
An Island of Freedom in an Islamist Sea
Why have we been supporting the SDF? First, they are the only group in the entire Middle East actually fighting and defeating ISIS. They lost hundreds of lives in the fight. More importantly, they implemented a pluralistic model throughout the one third of Syria they defend. Arab Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Kurds …. All groups have full legal and political rights and can worship freely. Women hold half of government offices. They even have their own military force. The SDF’s territory is the only place in the Muslim Middle East where these groups have these rights. The only one!
Turkish jihadis vow to behead Kurdish converts to Christianity.
Turkish troops are massed at the border between Turkey and Syria. They are breathing the same threats uttered before they invaded Afrin last year. They vow to behead Kurdish converts to Christianity. To hunt other Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and other minorities. Less than 12 months ago, these forces began genocide and ethnic cleansing in Afrin. They drove more than 200,000 primarily Kurdish citizens out. They demolished Christian and Yazidi places of worship.
Turkey claims the Kurds in the region are terrorists. This despite overwhelming evidence that this is false. Only the US presence has prevented a Turkish invasion.
Helping Iran, Assad, and Hezbollah
If we leave, the SDF has only one alternative to extermination. That is: turning to the Assad regime. Allowing Iranian (Hezbollah), Russian, and regime forces in. That would undercut US interests drastically. It will also allow ISIS to regroup and become a threat again.
The real reason Erdogan hates the SDF is simple. It is pluralistic, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic. Its success flies in the face of Erdogan’s plan for an Islamist religious state in Syria. He secretly backed ISIS throughout the Syrian conflict. Turkey created terrorist havens in large parts of Idlib and in Afrin. Afrin had been the safest and most free area in Syria. ISIS flags fly in Afrin now. Women wear black burkas. One year ago, women held senior positions there, and Kurdish converts to Christianity worshiped freely.
Are the President’s Words Empty?
In the last twelve months, the Trump Administration has fought for religious freedom around the world. It held the well-attended Ministerial on International Religious Freedom in July 2018. Trump even enacted strong enough sanctions on Turkey to get US Pastor Andrew Brunson out of jail. The White House persuaded Uzbekistan to agree to a road map toward religious freedom. It made religious freedom a key piece of US foreign policy. President Trump spoke about this repeatedly. Were those words empty?
Abandoning our SDF allies tells people that the US commitment to international religious freedom is hypocritical. How much does it mean if one US pastor gets out of jail, when millions of Syrian Christians, Yazidis, Kurds and others face a further genocide?
This arbitrary twist in US policy is a complete betrayal of our Syrian allies in war and peace. The SDF has bled for the values we hold dear as a nation. How can Christians who struggle against Islamist genocide and ethnic cleansing in other countries have any confidence in the US? How can any US ally trust us?