Tuesday, September 26, 2017

We must support Kurdish independence.

Female Kurdish peshmerga fighters training at a command base in Sulaimaniya, 150 miles northeast of Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003. CreditAtta Kenare Org/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images 
No one likes winning more than President Trump. He has a chance to prove it on Monday, when Iraqi Kurds hold a referendum on their independence.
There is no shortage of losers in the Middle East, but anyone in the business of spotting winners should bet on an independent Kurdish state. Backing the Kurds is not only strategically smart — they are a steadfast ally in the fight against the Islamic State and Islamist extremism, doing battle alongside American soldiers — it’s also the right thing to do.
Yet the Trump administration has worked to prevent the referendum, arguing that with the war against the Islamic State yet to be won, a vote could risk further dividing an already fractious coalition. In a statement, it called the referendum “provocative and destabilizing.”
This is a serious mistake. In failing to offer full-throated support for Kurdish independence, the United States is focusing solely on the short-term volatility of the region and overlooking serious medium- and long-term opportunities.
There’s no denying that the Middle East is a mess: To truly stabilize the region, we need to defeat the Islamic State, replace the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and contain Iran, which still threatens to go nuclear. But the best way to stamp out darkness isn’t through military might, but through light. And an independent Kurdish state would be a beacon of hope in a part of the world where hope is desperately needed.
An independent Kurdish state would be a victory for democratic values, national self-determination and the rights of women and minorities. Is there a more iconic image of the fight against the Islamic State than that of female Kurdish peshmerga fighters doing battle on the front lines against jihadists who demand the subjugation of women? An independent Kurdish state would empower these warriors in a part of the world where women and girls are typically second-class citizens.
In addition to its commitment to gender equality, Kurdistan has also shown its commitment to minority rights. Over the past three years, Kurdistan, which is about the size of Maryland, has taken in nearly two million refugees, including Assyrians, Yazidis, Turkmen, Shabaks and Christians fleeing the Islamic State and sectarian violence in other parts of Iraq and in Syria.
Even without a formal state, the Kurds have built a society that meets many of the criteria of statehood. They are economically viable, with a well-developed energy industry. They have functioning institutions, including elections for Parliament and a relatively free media. And they’ve proved capable of defending themselves against the Islamic State without attacking others.
Kurdistan is already, in values and governance, a democratic nation in waiting. Is it a perfect Jeffersonian democracy? No. Does it have a long way to go? Yes. But in a region where tyranny is the norm, it’s on the right track.
With a state, the Kurds could become an even more valuable and constructive ally against extremism. That would be in the American interest, but just as important, it would be a fulfillment of American values. Supporting Kurdish independence means supporting the right to self-determination of a people that have overcome oppression, persecution and tyranny to build a thriving, vibrant society. That’s one of the reasons Israel supports the Kurds’ right to self-determination.
Some 30 years ago, the Kurdish people were being choked with chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein. Today they stand as a nation reborn, about to embark on an inspiring exercise in democracy. We have a moral duty to support its outcome. In a region where the flags of liberal democracies are routinely set alight, Kurdistan has chosen to embrace liberal democratic values.
Now the United States faces a critical choice. President Trump has the chance to demonstrate American leadership, promote American values and strengthen an American ally. Israel would welcome his support for the Kurds. And if handled intelligently, the pragmatic Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates could follow suit, on the grounds that Kurdistan could serve as a bulwark against Iran and the Islamic State.
If we wait for the region to be perfectly stable, for Islamist extremism to disappear or for the collective blessing of Ankara, Tehran and Baghdad, we could be waiting forever. If, however, the United States wants to support a stabilizing, modernizing and democratic force, the choice is clear: Mr. Trump should bet on a winner and support an independent Kurdish state.

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