Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds is their death sentence

Abandoning the Kurds leaves them vulnerable not only to Turkey, but to Syrian troops and ISIS. And it signals to allies that our word is meaningless.

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Fighters and veterans from two Kurdish protection units march in front of United Nations headquarters in the northern Kurdish Syrian city of Qamishli during a protest against Turkish threats in the Kurdish region, on Oct. 8, 2019.

Photo by DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP via Getty Images

Back in 2011, the embers of the Syrian war sparked in the southwestern town of Daraa, in a siege by the Assad regime’s Syrian Army that resulted in the deaths of up to 240 civilians, many of them children.

Eight years later, you’re forgiven if you’ve forgotten why that war began, or why so many have died since — upwards of half a million people, 50,000 of them children by conservative estimates. It wasn’t, like so many Middle Eastern conflicts are, over land or religion per se. There was no invasion, no terrorist threat, no coup.

There was, quite simply, a demonstration — a demonstration over children.

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In March 2011, hundreds of civilians took to the streets of Daraa to protest the kidnapping, torture and incarceration of 15 young students by the Assad regime. They’d been sought in connection with anti-government graffiti calling for the ouster of Bashar al-Assad. A 13-year-old boy, Hamza al-Khateeb, was tortured and killed.

As the protests over the captive children escalated, Assad cracked down ferociously, labeling the protesters terrorists. Regime forces fired openly at them, dragged families out of their homes and arrested them, many never to be seen again. Snipers sat atop mosques where protesters gathered, looking for clear shots to the head. Assad shut off water, power and phone lines, which alone resulted in the deaths of hundreds.

Journalists and aid groups were barred from entry. After the siege of Daraa, similar affronts occurred in Baniyas, Homs, Talkalakh, Latakia and other cities. By May — just two months after the initial protests in Daraa — the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria reported 1,062 had been killed.

Since then, Assad has waged war on his own people, largely unfettered. He’s used chemical weapons to gas children, he’s bombed hospitals and schools, he’s driven millions from their homeland.

The U.S. mission in Syria has varied over the years, from arming insurgents to intelligence gathering, limited air strikes and fighting off ISIS.

While our goals in Syria were never clearly enumerated by then-President Obama or President Trump, throughout the war one of our most committed and effective allies in the fight has been the Kurds.

Denied their own state in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran after World War I, the Kurds have suffered multiple attempted genocides and ethnic cleansing; they are often called the largest ethnic group without a state. In recent years, hostilities have erupted in Turkey, driving them out to the Syrian border.

In taking up the fight against ISIS as a strategic U.S.-backed partner, the Kurds had their own ambitions, to be sure — they were hoping the territory they helped secure would become an autonomous Kurdish region of their own.

A full 12,000 Kurdish fighters, members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, lost their lives in the conflict.

Last weekend’s surprise announcement by Trump to quit northern Syria, the region in which we were protecting Kurdish forces, is not only a stab in the back, as the SDF called it, it’s a political disaster with enormous costs.

Abandoning the Kurds now leaves them vulnerable not only to Turkey, but to Syrian troops and ISIS. It signals to current and would-be allies, particularly potential military partners, that the United States can’t be trusted, that our word is meaningless.

Think back to 9/11, after which George W. Bush gathered an international coalition of the willing to fight global terrorism. The next time we make that ask, who will be willing?

In addition to the political implications of this move, Trump’s decision also represents a moral and ethical failure. And it’s one among many in recent months.

While Vladimir Putin is jailing journalists, Trump is calling the American press the enemy of the people. While China is tear-gassing and shooting protesters in Hong Kong, Trump is celebrating the Communist dictatorship’s anniversary.

While millions of Syrian families are displaced, Trump is lowering the caps on U.S. refugee admittance. And while Kurdish forces are burying their troops, Trump has pulled their only protectors from the region.

This America — one that backs Russian, Chinese and North Korean dictators, one that abandons our allies, that attacks democratic institutions like a free press and free and fair elections — is unrecognizable.

For the Kurds, this America just sentenced them to death. For the Syrians, this America has once again turned its back on a genocide — a genocide that started over a protest for missing children.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

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