Shoshana Bryen: The Kurds: A Guide for U.S. Policymakers

On Sunday, June 7th Turkish voters delivered a dramatic blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In a historic first, a party dominated by ethnic Kurds surged into the Grand National Assembly in Ankara, marking a new moment in the evolution of Turkey’s democracy. According to Akin Unver, a professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, it’s now “impossible to sideline Kurdish politics. Despite the civil war of the 1990s, Kurds have evolved politically and established a lasting legacy” on the Turkish national stage.

Professor Unver, is not the only one who believes that the Kurds should be recognized politically. On June 4th, during the Center for Security Policy’s National Security Group Lunch on Capitol Hill, Shoshana Bryen who is the Senior Director of the Jewish Policy Center offered three practical steps that the U.S. can do to help assist the Kurds and advance U.S. interests in the region.

Bryen says that the first step, which coincides with Professor Unver, “is for the U.S. to recognize the Kurds politically, as an ally, as a partner in the fight against ISIS.” She mentions that there was a meeting in Paris last week between coalition members to discuss Iraq and Syria and the Kurds were not invited, despite the fact that there are 160,000 or so Kurdish fighters on the ground doing the job.

The second step, according to Bryen, is for the U.S. to talk to the Kurds directly and not through Baghdad:

“Right now all the aid that we give them, which is not a whole lot, goes through Baghdad. The Kurds probably get about 25 or 35 percent of that, which means we need to talk to them directly instead. The U.S. needs to figure out how to give them military equipment directly. The Turks, Iraqis, and Iranians will not like it, but if the Germans and the French can supply the Kurds directly which is what they do now, then the U.S. ought to as well.”

Bryen’s third step is that the U.S. needs to figure out how to get the Kurds to the United States to talk. Bryen stresses that “the Kurdish voices are not being heard around the United States and they need to be. They need invitations, they need to be invited to testify on Capitol Hill, and they need to be invited to conferences.”

Bryen also stresses that U.S. interests actually lie with the minority communities in the Middle East, which includes Israel and the Kurds. She says that “we have allies in the region and we need to lean on them instead of trying to pretend that our enemies are our allies.” Bryen ends with saying that if we follow these three crucial steps, then that is “the beginning of wisdom for the United States.”

Becoming allies with the Kurds would offer the United States tremendous strategic advantages that would help defeat the Islamic State, especially now after the Turkish election results. Unlike several of the countries from which the U.S. flies their aircrafts or bases their ships, the Kurdish leaders and people are pro-American, its ruling regime is not a monarchy ripe for Arab-Spring-style overthrow, and it does not sponsor Islamist terrorism. It is clearly time for America to form an alliance with the Kurds.