What the Media gets Wrong about Northern Syria

Kurdish fighters prepare for a Turkish invasion. Photo courtesy VOANews. com.

On Oct. 6, President Donald Trump gave Turkish president Recep Erdogan the green light to further invade Northern Syria. A statement from Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham announced American troops would be leaving the area and said, “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria.”

Since the withdrawal, two falsehoods have spread throughout the establishment press. First, quoting Rick Noack writing for The Washington Post: “The U.S. pullout has…created opportunities for four of the United States’ key foes: Iran, the Assad regime, Russia and—potentially—the Islamic State group.” Second, quoting Jason Baker writing for USA Today: “America has a long-standing relationship with the Kurdish people.”

There has been much fearmongering concerning Turkey’s perceived pivot towards Russia, based on Turkey’s $2.5 billion purchase of the S-400 missile defense system from Russia in 2017. This fear is devoid from reality. Also in 2017, Turkey made a £100-million fighter jet deal with the U.K. They receive hundreds of millions in economic and humanitarian aid, as well as weapons from the U.S. Turkey remains in NATO, a military alliance hostile to Russia, and has been vying for entrance into the EU for years. It was a Western ally that further invaded Northern Syria on Oct. 9, one of Russia’s only Middle Eastern allies.

One CNN article dubiously called new ties between Syrian Kurds and Assad “a major shift in the country’s eight-year war.” Kurdish fighters did turn to Assad for support following the invasion, but this is nothing new. For years, the Kurdish forces in Syria have tenuously co-existed with the government of Syria. While Turkey doesn’t fear attacking the Syrian Kurds, a confrontation with Assad would have far-reaching global implications and devastating consequences. Understanding this, the Kurds in the past, forfeited border territory to Assad to protect the Kurdish people from Turkey. In 2018, when Turkey perpetrated cross-border bombings, Assad allowed for Kurdish troops to travel through government-held territory and provided aid as well.

As to the American “relationship with the Kurdish people,” this includes U.S. supported mass slaughter of Kurds in Turkey and Iraq. While Saddam’s 1988 chemical attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja was later decried by the U.S., what is often ignored is U.S. responsibility. In violation of a UN-imposed embargo on warring parties during the Iran-Iraq war, the U.S. backed Saddam through economic aid, weapons sales, intelligence, training and chemicals sales that were used in attacks on the Kurds and others. Thousands of Kurds were killed.

Between 1980 and 1999, the U.S. imported $11.5 billion in arms to Turkey while 30,000 Kurds were killed in Southern Turkey. According to Human Rights Watch in 1998, Kurdish “cities have been brutally attacked by security forces, hundreds of their villages have been forcibly evacuated, their ethnic identity continues to be attacked, their rights to free expression denied and their political freedom placed in jeopardy.” This was ignored in the American media. Quoting Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in Manufacturing Consent, “the media not only gave minimal attention to the severe abuse of the Kurds by Turkey throughout the 1990s, and to the Clinton Administration’s lavish help to Turkey’s implementation of that ethnic-cleansing program, they rarely applied the word ‘genocide’ to these Turkish operations.”

Principled stances against U.S. withdrawal emanating from the media seem political rather than genuine. Otherwise, the longstanding history of American support for violence against Kurds would be included. While the outcry against the Turkish invasion is important, it’s likely it will fade when this administration does. Kurds will continue to be bombed, tortured and killed. The Turkish assault on the Kurdish people in Northern Syria is both genocidal and in the interest of American control over the region. It should be critiqued as such. When the defense of the Kurds is also a critique of American empire rather than a fear of its dissipation, those criticizing the Turkish invasion will be credible.

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