Except for the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan, there isn’t one state in Western Asia that is viable inside its present borders at a 20-year horizon. All the powers with interests in the region want to kick the problem down the road, and that is why the whole world (excepting Israel) wants to abort an independence referendum to be held by Iraq’s eight million Kurds on Sept. 25. If Iraq’s Kurds try to convert the autonomous zone they have ruled for a quarter of a century into a fully independent state, the Iraqi state probably will collapse, Turkey likely will invade northern Iraq and Syria, and Iran will join Turkey in military operations against Kurdish-led forces in Iraq.
There is no precedent in diplomatic history for the whole world closing ranks against the aspirations of a small people, let alone one that has governed itself admirably amidst regional chaos for the past generation. On Thursday, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to warn of “potentially destabilizing effects” of the independence vote. Turkey’s parliament Sept. 23 renewed a mandate for the Turkish army to invade Syria and Iraq, and Ankara’s defense minister warned that the vote could collapse a “structure built on sensitive and fragile balances.” The White House warned, Sept. 15 that “the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat [the Islamic State] and stabilize the liberated areas.”
Just what is the “sensitive and fragile balance” that the Kurds might up-end by substituting the word “independent” for “autonomous” in the description of their land in Northern Iraq?
Most of Turkey’s military-age men will come from Kurdish-speaking families by 2040 or so, because Turkey’s 20 million Kurds have twice as many children as ethnic Turks. Last year I reviewed Turkey’s 2015 census data, which show the trend towards Kurdish demographic preponderance accelerating (“Turkey’s Demographic Winter and Erdogan’s Duplicity”). Concentrated in Turkey’s southeast, the Turkish Kurds dominate a part of the country contiguous to the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq. After half a century of dirty war by the Turkish army against the Kurdish minority, Turkey’s Southeast might break away to join an Iraq-centered Kurdish state.
Stitched together from three Ottoman provinces by the British Colonial office, Iraq maintained a brutal sort of stability under the minority rule of Sunni Arabs who controlled the army and used it murderously against the Shi’ite Arab majority as well as the Kurdish minority. George W. Bush insisted on majority rule, namely Shi’ite domination, which pushed the Sunnis into the embrace of al-Qaeda and later ISIS, and left the Kurds to fend for themselves.
Iran faces a demographic catastrophe over the next 20 years because the present generation of Iranians were born to families of seven children, but have only one or two children. As the present generation ages, Iran’s elderly depends will comprise 30% of the total, about the same as Europe, but with about a tenth the per capita GDP. Iran will be the first country to get old before it gets rich, and its economy will implode. Like Turkey, though, Iran has huge ethnic disparities in birth rates. In Tehran province, Iranian women have less than one child apiece on average, but in the restive province of Baluchistan on the Pakistani border, women have 3.7 children.
Syria’s Sunni majority suffered long under the heel of a deviant Shi’ite (Alawite) minority, and rebelled with Obama’s encouragement in 2011. With Russian and Iranian backing, the Assad government squared off against al-Qaeda and ISIS elements, until the Kurds created a third force that could defeat ISIS on the ground while holding off Assad’s Iranian mercenaries. After the Iraq and Afghanistan wars America lacked the stomach to put boots on the ground, and the Kurds became America’s designated proxy.
The United States brawled into the region in 2003 in order to create a stable and democratic Iraq, and instead opened Pandora’s Box. That left Russia (as well as China) in a quandary: the emergence of a Sunni jihad movement claiming the legitimacy of a new caliphate threatens the security of Russia, a seventh of whose citizens are Muslims, and overwhelmingly Sunni. Suppressing the Sunni jihad was a prime objective of Russia’s intervention in Syria, and its uneasy alliance with Shi’ite Iran.
Washington is left without an appetite for a fight, and without the gumption to declare its Mesopotamian and Afghan adventures a failure. America’s military leadership of the past 20 years rose through the ranks by supporting nation-building in Iraq. Although the US military has backed and armed the Kurds, it will not support any action that undermines Iraq’s territorial integrity.
Western Europe is already reeling from the million and a half Syrian and other migrants dumped on its borders with the connivance of the Turkish government, which allowed the migrant horde to pass its borders en route to the Balkans and thence to northern Europe. It wants stability at all costs, fearing that more fighting would set more refugees in motion.
China wants everyone to shut up and join its “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure project, which envisions Iran as a key node and Turkey as a western terminus. The ruins of Middle Eastern states might be absorbed eventually into a Chinese economic empire stretching across Eurasia, what I previously dubbed a “Pax Sinica.”
That leaves the Kurds to fend for themselves. That is a pity, and not just for the Kurds, who have shown themselves capable of governing themselves and fighting effectively to suppress the likes of the Islamic State. If Washington were sufficiently guileful, it could use the Kurdish crisis to its advantage. Turkey has behaved execrably during the past several years, playing a double game with the Islamic State, violating its obligations to NATO by purchasing Russia’s air defense system, and above all by using the transit of refugees as a bludgeon against the West.
Washington’s best course of action would be to threaten Turkey with support for Kurdish independence — including the artillery, anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft systems required to repel a Turkish invasion. Ankara would recoil in horror, but that would be a salutary exercise for the rogue Turkish capital. At the same time, it should counsel the Kurds to be patient, to bide their time, to trust to an American-led international commission on the future of Kurdish nationality, and to enjoy American largesse in a number of areas, including economic development and armaments. There are all sorts of ways for sophisticated weapons to get into Kurdish hands with plausible deniability. Without giving away the whole game, that should indicate how Washington might exploit the crisis.
Iran reportedly has put several army brigades into its own Kurdish areas in advance of the referendum. Iran’s Kurds would welcome American support, and I would advise Washington to engage the services of people like Michael Ledeen, the leading proponent of undermining the Tehran theocracy, to deal with the details — again, with plausible deniability.
Russia wouldn’t like this, to be sure, but Washington has few reasons to please Moscow at the moment. China wouldn’t like it; any sort of instability is bad for business. In diplomacy, though, everything is negotiable. What will Russia and China concede for America’s help in persuading the Kurds to be patient? In the medium term, Kurdish ascendancy is likely whether the great powers like it or not. They are tough, competent and impassioned about their own nationality, while the Turks and Iranians have become enervated and hollow, and the Arabs tribalistic and corrupt. America should cultivate the winners, and thereby gain the influence to moderate the course of Kurdish national aspirations.
But all this is like saying that if we had some ham, we could have ham-and-eggs, if we had some eggs. After two decades of promoting diplomats and military officers for doing the wrong sort of thing, Washington simply lacks people with the imagination to turn a good crisis to its advantage.
Again the Mossad agent (AKA Goldman, Spengler…paid Israeli blogger) comes to spew Israeli wet dream for poor people of Kurdistan. First of all Mr. Goldman, with all due respect, the opinion of Terrorist, apartheid Zionist entity of Israel doesn’t count in the world’s public opinion. This terrorist entity has been working non stop to cause discord in Middle East and one by one their terror plots have back fired. With the emergence of Syria and defeat of terrorist groups (ISIS, Al Nustrat, Al Qeda) which were heavily armed and trained by Israel to the point of having their injured treated in Israeli hospitals, their final plot is to push the Kurds for indpendence. Kurds should know better by now than to trust Americans. Historically going to the 70’s all the way up to the time that Saddam gas them in Halebjeh (1987), Americans never came to their aids. Oddly enough, it was always Iran that assisted them. As for pleading to your other Terrorist comrade Michael Ledeen (which should be hanged by Nurmberg judges for crimes against humanity in Iraq), you must be drinking Bibi’s Kool Aid too much. No one in their right mind would believe Michael Ledeen even though the DT’s administration is full of Israeli controlled Zionists. Americans don’t have an appetite for another war no matter what the Israeli controlled generals in this administration try to push. As for your ideas about population decline in Turkey and Iran, your figures don’t jive and you keep forgetting that Iran doesn’t need young Iranian to fight its war….it can easily recruit them from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon…and just about every where.
Having said all this, this bring us to the poor repressed and occupied folks in Gaza and Palestine that have been oppressed more brutally than anyone else in history. Now that the forces of Shia and Sunni are solidifying their positions in Lebanon and Gaza with the battle hardened Hezbollah and Syrian army, in the next 5 years we will see how that will reshape the future of Palestinians.
Also with Donald is accelerating the American decline, the emergence of Russia, China and the belt and road initiative will only make Iran’s position stronger and that will help expedite the taming of the renegade, terrorist entity of Israel.
The Kurds will get thrown under the bus by the US and Israel
After the neocon Zionists bet on the Wahhabi Jihadists, they are now placing their hope on the Kurds to carry on the Greater Israel project in the Levant.
What did readers expect from another Zionist ?? Of course some support for this perverted neocon spiel
You should write about the plight of Palestinian people in Palestine (known as Israel) and stop worrying about Kurds. But again, your jonb is to spread cancer, and we all know there is no cure for it, however, Iran is doing well and we all can count on them in the coming few months.
The first sentence notes that Israel is one of two states in western asia to be viable within it’s borders over 20 years. But just what are those borders? The UN ones or the Likud’s? No need to read further in this article.
Free Kurdistan, Free Baluchistan and Free Pashtunistan!
first of all the dreaming west must forget the idea that the kurds will be natural allies simply because they are secular.
1.egypt tunisia algeria and much of central asia went through secularist periods and that didnt change the ground,now seriously the kurds will be agreater danger for israel,because it is economics that keeps israel strong,the kurds controlling the oil and ground, and knowing the kurds, allready aggressive in their european homes in germany and now in the mindset of political demand would seize the control of the strategic oil routes ,how does the west feel it has natural ally,the moment of independence will provide greater ammunition for russia and iran and turkey..an independent kurdish state would be a catastrophe for israel and the gulf rulers..
one more thing david..the US never had a rebuilding plan for iraq as you mention.
Israel’s borders will be whereever it wants them to be. The UN is not even a consideration. In my view, Israel’s borders will extend to the Litani River in Lebanon (as delineated in the Bible) and into Southern Syria. Wait and see, is the best answer. All Arab states are cracking up, there’s no predicting where the lines will be drawn in the future. It depends on military, economic, and demographic factors which no one has ever predicted accurately.
The Kurds may suprise us again. They might pull it off on their own. Or their recent victory against the Islamic State has made them over confident.
James O’Brien Simply consider how wrong every prediction of doom about the State of Israel has been in the past, starting from the 1920’s onward. It’s tiresome to read. Everyone cherry picks their favorite statistics to make their favorite arguments, on both sides of this issue. Nonetheless, the historic record speaks the truth. Israel is an economic and military power in the MidEast, with no rival. It will create borders that suit its population growth, and the Palestinians indeed will be screwed. 100 years of horrible leadership, combined with a horrible culture that produced that leadership, makes a huge and irreversible difference. Abbas was correct when he stated last year that the Palestinians should have accepted the 1947 partition plan, which greatly favored them. Now it’s too late. Area C of the West Bank will be annexed soon, and that will put an end to all the blather.
Happy Birthday to a truly sui generis commentator!
History suggests you’re right. What a shame. :-/
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