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Less Medising, Please

Galbraith has long been a consultant to the Kurds and, long before that, a passionate advocate for their cause. Still, an objective case can be made that the United States has a moral and strategic interest in Kurdish independence. Redeploying troops to the Kurdistan region accomplishes four goals, Galbraith argues. It “secures the one part of Iraq that has emerged as stable, democratic, and pro-Western.” It deters “a potentially destabilizing Turkish-Kurdish war.” It “provides U.S. forces a secure base that can be used to strike at al-Qaida in adjacent Sunni territories.” And it limits “Iran’s increasing domination.” ~Fred Kaplan [1]

Kaplan is referring here to Peter Galbraith’s NYRB article [2] on Iraq.  Personally, I’m a bit wary of anything offered by passionate advocates for Kurdish independence.  Kurdish independence attracts a pretty odd motley crew, many of whom do not generally show what I would call good judgement.  What other idea could unite Paul Wolfowitz, Marty Peretz, Christopher Hitchens and George Galloway in something like common cause?  As a stateless nation, the Kurds have been on the receiving end of plenty of oppression (and some Kurds dished out their share as well–ask the Assyrians and Armenians), and despite my criticisms of the “Kurdish exception” rhetoric and my objections to the unduly optimistic assessments of what an independent Kurdistan would mean for the region I have no argument with the Kurds themselves.  However, it is quite legitimate to question the judgement of “passionate” advocates for the national cause of another people when they are calling on the U.S. government to do something for that people.  Galbraith talks about discharging our moral debt to the Kurds–have we not actually already done that in destroying the regime that terrorised them?   

Kaplan anticipates this objection and says that an objective case can be made for an independent Kurdistan.  What the points quoted above demonstrate is not that there is a case for an independent Kurdistan, but that a U.S.-occupied Kurdish protectorate might achieve the goals Kaplan mentions.  Almost by definition, a Kurdistan that requires an American presence, even a relatively small one, to guarantee its existence against outside invasion is not fully independent, and a Kurdistan that exists as a forward U.S. base and a sort of buffer zone between Turkey and central and southern Iraqi chaos will not necessarily remain stable or pro-Western (and it already isn’t really very democratic) for very long.  Kurds are “pro-Western” to the extent that they are (and I would not assume that it is a very great extent) because they have enjoyed protection and stability thanks in part to the U.S. military, but like any other people–and perhaps more than most–a desire for independence and the continued presence of American forces, even if they are there in a purely defensive and supporting role, will probably create increasing resentment and hostility towards that presence.  It seems to me that it is not a coincidence that the one group in Iraq that still has generally favourable views of the U.S. is the one that has had rather less contact with the military presence in Iraq.