Over 40 years ago, in 1978, the Soviet Union led a coup in Afghanistan to set up a communist government, beginning what would become another decade long proxy war between the Soviets and the United States. A group of Afghan freedom fighters called the Mujahadeen was funded by the U.S. and other allies to fight back against this communist threat. Specifically, we gave them portable stinger missiles, which gave them a chance to disrupt the Soviets’ air supremacy and push them out of Afghanistan. The vigilance of the Mujahadeen partnered with a slew of economic sanctions on the USSR successfully removed Afghanistan’s Communist Party from power.
However, the U.S. then made a mistake that would have effects on global geopolitics for decades to come: we didn’t attempt to establish a stable government in the region. Instead, we pulled our forces and funding out of Afghanistan entirely. The resulting power vacuum allowed the Taliban to come into power, and bitterness over America’s actions would lead to the formation of Al Qaeda.
Two decades later, in 2003, the U.S. began its invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein’s regime. At this time, the U.S. military enlisted the help of a stateless ethnic group called the Kurds, who had been defending themselves from Iraqi oppression using militias. Kurdish forces proved to be very effective fighters, so when the threat of ISIS began sweeping across Syria in 2014, we called for the help of Kurdish militias. They again proved to be successful, pushing ISIS out of Syria and most recently cooperating with U.S. forces to hunt down and kill ISIS’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Unfortunately, our government has recently made the same mistake it did all those years ago in Afghanistan. We have abandoned our Kurdish allies by pulling out our troops in the region, leaving them to be massacred at the hands of Erdogan’s Turkey, an authoritarian regime itching to wipe them out. Already, Turkey has launched airstrikes and begun a ground invasion of Kurdish-controlled zones in northern Syria.
For a country that justifies its unfathomably large military budget by claiming to be the “police force of the world,” we are doing an especially poor job of protecting our allies and keeping oppressive regimes in check. Since the early 20th century, America has taken an imperial approach to global politics, meddling with foreign governments for personal gain, often at their expense. In the 21st century, it is now our responsibility to mend the wounds we have made all over the world. Our choice to abandon the Kurds is a dangerous step in the opposite direction of this goal.
It’s impossible to know what cost the United States will pay for this particular transgression in the Middle East. If the Kurds are destroyed, who or what will fill the power vacuum in Syria? If they are not, what will their attitude towards the United States be, and how will this attitude affect our future operation in the Middle East? One thing is for certain: history will remember this as yet another irreversible blunder in U.S. foreign policy.