As Turkish forces embark upon a massive offensive into Kurdish-controlled Northeast Syria, memories of my 2011 trip to Iraqi Kurdistan are in the front of my mind.
While I was checking out the ancient Citadel which sits atop the city of Erbil, two men approached me.
Oh boy, I thought. Here come the touts.
But it turned out to be two students who were a bit surprised to see what appeared to be an American tourist.
We had an extended chat about life In Iraqi Kurdistan, the Iraq War, travel, and life in general.
It was illuminating and fascinating, in that I was showered with gratitude, simply for being American. These two men, who had vivid recollections of Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror, stood next to me and invited me to look out at the city below.
This is our city. This is our country. And we will die for it.
As I walked down the hill and into the city, I came across a group of men sitting around and talking.
Seeing me, one man started chanting:
Thank You Mr. Bush!
The men around him erupted in applause.
What do you say to that? I just nodded and kept walking.
For dinner, I found a little shawarma restaurant in the heart of the city.
All eyes were on me as I sat down to eat my chicken sandwich. But the awkward silence was soon broken by one of the workers.
He welcomed me to Erbil and asked me what I was doing there.
You should have seen the look on his face…
The food, by the way, was tremendous and the sandwich plus a freshly-made smoothie only set me back a couple dollars.
Once again, I was thanked for “your” (as if I represented the United States) sacrifice for “my” people.
The Uncertain Future
This trip report is so prescient now because U.S. foreign policy has dramatically changed over the last week.
Departing from decades of U.S. policy supporting the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, the Trump Administration has given Turkey the green-light to invade Syria. As noted even by the National Review, generally a stalwart supporter of the President:
Turkey now has an American permission slip to conduct an invasion into Kurdish territory, kill American allies, and carve out a zone of dominance that will further inflame and complicate one of the world’s most dangerous regions.
The target is not simply ISIS rebels, which the Kurds bravely fought to eliminate, but the Kurds themselves. Turkey brands the YPG as Kurdish terrorists, fearing an alliance with the PKK separatist movement within Turkey that seeks to created an independent Kurdistan spanning Turkey, Syria, and Iraq.
Such fear is not totally unfounded. The issue is not as simple as Turks bad, Kurds good. This analysis by Melik Kaylan in Forbes nicely explains the complexity of the situation.
And this isn’t the Armenian genocide. There is not Kurdish blood washing down the street…at least not yet.
But when American just blindsides one of its most loyal allies…all I can do is shake my head. Not even the courtesy of a discussion or even a heads up…
I was in Istanbul last week. While drinking coffee, I started chatting with a Turkish Kurd. He was shocked to learn I had visited Erbil and his eyes lit up when I showed him my pictures. He too patted me on my shoulder and thanked me for America’s support of the Kurds.
I doubt he would be so friendly today.
My time in Iraqi Kurdistan reminded me of the Afghanistan dilemma I pondered after my trip to Kabul. What should we do? What can we do? And what must we do?
There is no easy answer.
> Read More: The Afghanistan Dilemma