Sunday, October 23, 2016

Friday, October 14, 2016

“The Syrian Kurds Need More Than Weapons—They Need Political Support”

In the last presidential deba…cle, Hillary Clinton mentioned her plan to provide Kurds in Syria with small arms, as the Obama administration has discussed in recent weeks. This article by Patrick Lewis thoughtfully considers this policy:
The Obama administration is considering a plan to further arm the Kurds—whom many in Washington call “our most effective partner on the ground” in Syria—in order to incentivize Kurdish participation in an upcoming offensive against ISIS in Raqqa. Two weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune published an editorial endorsing this plan—the headline proclaimed this as “Step One” for “Fixing Syria.” And in presidential debates, including last night’s, Hillary Clinton has advocated a similar plan.

Expelling ISIS from Raqqa, the largest Syrian city under the group’s control and its self-declared capital, has been a primary U.S. military objective in Syria since the beginning of its intervention in 2014. Raqqa now carries (in the minds of U.S. political and military leaders, at least) great symbolic importance in the war on ISIS. So it’s no surprise when the Tribune declares that the many complications and dangers of sending even more arms to the Kurds can be brushed aside: “What’s important now is the ouster of the Islamic State from Raqqa.”

But in calling for more shipments of weapons to Syria without any semblance of a plan for a political solution to the 5-year conflict—nor the even longer conflict between Turkey and the Kurds—the Tribune is reinforcing the worst aspects of U.S. policy in the region. This policy remains overly focused on achieving short-term military victories at the expense of longer-term political settlements, without which a lasting peace is impossible. What’s more, this policy will almost certainly fail to achieve even the limited goals it has set out for itself, namely the capture of Raqqa.

What’s needed is dialogue around Kurdish demands for a federal system in Syria (with local autonomy for Kurds and other minorities); without this, simply delivering weapons will privilege a military solution over a diplomatic one. It will likely strengthen the most militant and hardline factions among the Kurdish leadership while continuing to sideline many of the political and civil society leaders most responsible for the ongoing experiments in radical participatory democracy that have inspired admiration from Western Leftists and liberals alike.

Aldar Xelil, a member of the executive committee of TEV-DEM (an umbrella organization coordinating civil society groups in Rojava), made a similar point in a recent interview. When asked about Clinton’s pledge during the debates to arm America’s Arab and Kurdish allies in Syria, Xelil responded, “Of course it is important to give support to Kurdish forces. However, this support cannot be limited to military aid. Any support that will be forthcoming must be provided in all areas; that is to say it must be political, diplomatic, economic and social support as well.”

Xelil cites the consistent exclusion of the PYD—the dominant Kurdish party in Rojava—from the Geneva peace talks on Syria as one area in particular where the U.S. has failed its declared partner. An increasingly common perception in Rojava is that America has repeatedly blocked the PYD’s participation in these talks out of deference to its NATO ally Turkey. (The PYD is a close ally of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state in the country’s Kurdish-majority Southeast.)

In late August, the U.S. gave its support to Turkey’s cross-border incursion into Syria, to go after ISIS as far south as Jarabulus. However, it is widely acknowledged (including by Turkish President Erdogan himself) that the Kurds and their autonomous cantons in Rojava were also a primary target. Thus it was hardly a surprise to anyone that within days of Turkey’s intervention, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were fighting with Turkish soldiers south of Jarabulus.

The Tribune argues that Turkey can be consoled by a U.S. pledge that “the Kurds wouldn’t be getting heavy artillery, just small arms and ammunition.” This is entirely nonsense, and as insulting to the intelligence of the Syrian Kurds themselves as it is to Turkey. More weapons without diplomacy in Northern Syria risks further inflaming tensions in both the Syrian conflict and Turkey, where the government has been waging a new “dirty war” on its own Kurdish population. Tens of thousands have been displaced and entire neighborhoods left in ruins while the American government has remained largely silent.

The renewed fighting in Turkey came after a multiyear peace process between Turkey and the PKK fell apart last summer, in large part due to tensions over Kurdish gains in Syria. This is partly the fault of the United States, which failed to see how its policy of military support for the SDF was destabilizing the peace process in Turkey.

Not only would Turkey be unhappy if the Kurds received more U.S. weaponry, but there’s no evidence the Kurds want to take the deal either. As long as the United States is unwilling to push Turkey toward a comprehensive settlement with Kurdish parties in both Turkey and Syria, it is entirely unreasonable to expect the Kurds to send their fighters into Raqqa (where hundreds could be killed) solely in exchange for “small arms and ammunition.”

In fact, at the end of August, Asya Abdullah, the co-President of PYD, announced that there would be no Kurdish-led operation against Raqqa as long as Turkey’s incursion into Syria continued.

Likewise, just last month, Polat Can, the official representative for the YPG (the dominant group within the SDF) in President Obama’s “Global Coalition to Counter ISIL,” explicitly ruled out the group’s participation in such an operation as long as the U.S. and its Western allies continued to deny recognition to the Kurd’s political project in Rojava. “We are not some paramilitary group,” he told Washington-based journalist Mutlu Civiroglu. “We cannot say to our people let us go and fight, sacrifice so many of [our] young men and women [and] then not have the right to speak. Our people will not accept this and no one would accept this.”

Regardless of its real intentions, America’s double-game in Syria isn’t fooling anyone. It cannot continue to back two warring parties through a myopic focus on its war on ISIS. If it cannot find a political solution to the Turkish-Kurdish conflict—a conflict it has ignored for decades—further military successes against ISIS will become virtually impossible.

Absent a serious diplomatic effort to bring Turkey and the PKK back to the negotiating table and real steps toward some form of recognition for the Kurds’ political project in Rojava, the crisis in northern Syria will only deepen further, opening the door to an even wider regional conflagration. The United State[s] must not pour more gasoline on the fire.

Interlude – “Unissons Nous”

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

HSUS endorses Hillary Clinton

WaPo reports:
…Now, even America’s animals are breaking their silence to voice opposition to Trump.

Okay, not really the animals themselves. But last week, the lobbying arm of the nation’s most prominent animal welfare group, the Humane Society, broke with its own tradition of not making endorsements by coming out in support of Democrat Hillary Clinton and releasing an attack ad against Trump, calling him “a threat to animals everywhere.”

Trump “has assembled a team [of] advisors and financial supporters tied in with trophy hunting, puppy mills, factory farming, horse slaughter, and other abusive industries,” Markarian wrote in a blog post announcing the Clinton endorsement.

The president, Markarian noted, has influence over several agencies that create policies that affect animals, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Bureau of Land Management. Donald Trump Jr., who is seen holding up a severed elephant tail in the Humane Society ad, has expressed interest in joining the Department of the Interior.

But animal lovers shouldn’t just vote for Clinton out of fear of Trump, the HSLF argues. As the organization has written before, Clinton has a robust record on animal issues. As a senator, she sponsored legislation against animal fighting, puppy mills and slaughtering of horses for human food. As secretary of state, she led international efforts to police wildlife trafficking. The Clinton Foundation has fought elephant poaching, and Clinton’s official campaign website has a section on her positions on animal welfare.

If that’s not convincing, Markarian wrote, consider how the Clintons have shared their homes with Socks the cat and other animals, while Trump “would be the first president since Harry Truman without a pet in the White House.”

It should be noted that not all animal advocates are pro-Clinton. In response to the HSLF endorsement, Ecorazzi, a news site that says it has “an unapologetically vegan voice,” argued that there’s no point in looking for animal advocacy from politicians or officials who play roles in regulating the meat industry. The only hope, it says, is a “grassroots vegan movement.”
Look, Ecorazzi, there are two plausible options here: Clinton or Trump. A continuing grassroots vegan movement is necessary regardless. How do you think that would fare in a Trump presidency?

Interlude – “Million Dollar Loan”

Saturday, October 1, 2016