In politics, everybody is free to choose his friends and allies. Foreign policy isn’t always that simple, but there are choices every country makes. The United States made a strong choice two weeks ago.
Triggered by the threat of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the militant group which last week beheaded American journalist James Foley, the United States began arming the semi-autonomous province of Kurdistan, located in northern Iraq. Airstrikes have also been authorized to strike ISIS targets.
Since WWII, American arms funneling has been based on shaky ground at best. The Congolese military coup in 1960 saw the United States support the oppressive policies of Joseph-Desire Mobutu over the more moderate Patrice Lumumba, the indirect consequences of which were decades of genocide. Saddam Hussein, Muammar al-Qaddafi, even Osama Bin Laden are among those who have benefited from U.S. support for one reason or another. But those examples are often argued as necessary during the climate of the Cold War, when decisions were made addressing the larger threat of nuclear annihilation. Arming the Kurds now follows a more humane, as well as practical, approach.
The Kurdish people have survived years of oppression, such as Saddam Hussein’s genocidal tactics in 1988, economic and financial crisis through immature Iraqi politics, and now the dire threat of ISIS on their doorstep. While they were granted semi-autonomy in 1991, the Kurds remain one of the largest ethnic groups without an independent state. Some ethnic groups working for autonomy have engaged in violence to reach independence (like Hamas), but the Kurds have invested in building up infrastructure and are a start-up loan away from stable financial condition. They have their own military (called peshmerga, which translates to “those who walk with death”) and oil to fuel an economy.
And, for those inflammatory talking heads who maliciously group all Muslims into one category, the Kurds have pushed for a more tolerant society, evidenced by the denouncement of ISIS by prominent Kurdish political leader Mohammad Rauf: “The most valuable thing in Islam is the human, human dignity and freedom. But, extremist ideology has no respect for human dignity and freedom.”
The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and the jihadist expansion of ISIS threaten the Kurdish people, not only with conquering, but also with extermination. Only weeks ago, ISIS was trying to wipe out a small minority population called the Yizidi, including their women and children. Now the peshmerga face that same evil.
Let’s change the narrative on American foreign policy from one of calculated overbearance to wise leadership. Supporting Kurdish independence as reward for their assistance against ISIS must be the next step taken by President Obama’s administration. The Kurds have waited, they have suffered, and their time has come to have the human dignity and freedom that independence entails.
Collegian Editorial Editor Zack Burley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ZackBurley.