One of the common failings among honourable people is a failure to appreciate how thoroughly dishonourable some other people can be, and how dangerous it is to trust them.
In Baqi Barzani’s most recent column on KurdNet (25 July 2010), Obama’s administration less supportive of Kurdish rights, I believe he mistakenly portrays what is happening today with Washington’s foreign policy vis-à-vis the Kurds in northern Iraq. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first I want to put this discussion into some context.
In 1973 Mullah Mustafa Barzani said to Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post: ‘I trust America. America is too great a power to betray a small people like the Kurds.’ But betray the Kurds it did. And did it again. And again.
The relationship between Washington and the Kurds has been an abusive and duplicitous one in which the Kurds are kept at bay and become ‘friends’ only when Washington wants to destabilise the government in Baghdad.
Remember the plan cooked up by Henry Kissinger and the Shah of Iran in 1972? Their view was that the Kurds were ‘a card to play’ against Iraq and ‘a uniquely useful tool.’ The Kurds were no longer a useful tool after 1975.
What happened in 1991 after the Persian Gulf War? The US urged the Kurds to rise up against Saddam. And then left them to defend against themselves. The creation of the ‘safe haven’ thereafter was the result of worldwide media pressure on the US and Europe. Not as a result of Washington’s interest in protecting the Kurds.
This is a reflection of long-standing US policy in the region and part of global US policy, which looks out for US interests and US interests only. Washington is in the habit of making promises that it does not keep. Why anyone continues to believe them is beyond comprehension.
So Baqi Barzani begins his column by saying that ‘foreign policies and relations can shift with the rise of new administrations to power.’ This is true to some extent, but I believe that with regards to the Middle East, Israel, oil, and the Kurds there is really no change from one administration to the next. There are shifts in nuances to the policies, but forces in place in Washington do an astounding job at keeping the status quo. If they want you to think the policy has changed, they just lie about it.
Barzani says that George W. Bush ‘will be extolled for generations to come’ and that Bush’s ‘unrelenting support for Kurdish rights in Iraq’ has put him forever into ‘the hearts and minds of myriad Kurds all over the world.’ Please find me something that truly supports the notion of George W. Bush’s ‘unrelenting support’ of the Kurds in Iraq.
Bush and his administration did not invade Iraq because of any love for the Kurds. The plan to remove Saddam was in place before Bush took office. The attacks of 11 September then provided the perfect cover to go ahead with the invasion. Bush has become an accidental hero.
As Quill Lawrence writes, Bush ‘was hoping to send his troops through Turkey and was willing to make a deal with the Turkish government by which they would be able to send up to 60,000 troops of their own into northern Iraq with the invading force. The Kurds were pretty sure that these troops were not going to be friendly to them.’
Does that sound like the plan of someone with Kurdish rights in mind? Thankfully, on 01 March 2003 the Turkish parliament voted to reject the US plan and did not allow US troops through Turkey.
The Kurds then, whose aspirations of greater autonomy were encouraged by Washington, helped US troops gain control of the northern Kurdish regions, fighting side-by-side with coalition forces.
Less than a year later, Paul Bremer, head of the coalition government in Iraq, ‘told Kurdish leaders brusquely…to forget the past US autonomy policy and get with the unity program.’ The need for Kurdish assistance had ended and the US began pushing Kurdish forces back from Mosul and Kirkuk, focusing on the bigger Iraq picture.
Baqi Barzani refers to as the Obama administration being ‘less supportive of Kurdish rights’ than the Bush administration. While I do not appreciate Obama’s relative silence on the issue of the Kurds, I do not see what is happening now as an intentional decrease in support. It is merely an outcome, albeit a disappointing one, of Washington’s policy of Iraqi unity. Just as what happened with the 2003 invasion was an outcome of policy under Bush.
Obama met with Mesoud Barzani (KRG President) in January of this year in Washington, after which the White House released a rather bland statement: ‘the President extended the US’ good offices to help Iraqis move forward in forging a broad political consensus to resolve outstanding disagreements between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Government of Iraq, in accordance with the Iraqi constitution and working closely with the UN in these efforts.’
As Marina Ottaway, the Director of the Middle East Programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Deutsche Welle earlier this month: ‘From the point of view of Washington, the Kurds were useful to the US in the days of Saddam Hussein, but now they make things more complicated with the issue of the contentious region of Kirkuk and indeed tensions along the entire order between Kurdistan and Iraq.’ Hence the meaningless statement from the White House.
The KRG has an impressive lobbying machine in Washington. In fact, it has been placed in the ‘top ten’ in terms of money spent on lobbying firms. Is all that spending getting them anywhere? No amount of money is strong enough to sway US decision-making policy in Iraq on any policy of strategic US national importance. Rather, money spent is to build a ‘special relationship’ between Washington and Hewlêr (Erbil).
To increase their lobbying potential, Baqi Barzani suggests the KRG in DC become friendlier with the ‘neoconservative party, republicans and leaders of Jewish and Zionist Christian communities.’ What?!?! Who are the ones now benefitting from the lucrative oil deals? All the neocons from the former Bush administration. Be careful what you wish for, Baqi. Their track record in the Middle East is dark and dubious.
Barzani continues in his column saying that ‘[m]ost Americans commiserate with the Kurdish national struggle.’ I say that most Americans do not even know who the Kurds are, so how can they ‘commiserate’ with the national struggle? Perhaps of the handful of enlightened Americans who know about the situation, most of them empathise with the Kurds. However, if we are to talk about the US government, I do not feel much empathy emanating from Washington.
Obama is pedalling more of the same old, tired policy. It’s not ‘less supportive’, but rather, just packaged a bit differently.