I recently wrote about Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch being partly about thinning out the numbers among the Frankenstein monster that is the FSA. But when one extrapolates this further, could the Kurdish YPG that has been so heavily armed by the US, against the wishes of fellow NATO member Turkey, ultimately also turn on the United States itself? It is already becoming clear that Kurdish YPG militants are using NATO weapons, given to them by the United States against NATO member Turkey. It may just a matter of time before some of those weapons are turned against the American hand that once gifted them to the Kurds.
The concept of a Frankenstein monster did not begin with Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel. The idea that a monstrous creation could turn on its very creator is a philosophical concept that dates back to ancient times. While there are countless examples of this concept, in modern history, the spawning of Al-Qaeda from the US armed, trained and funded Mujaheddin in Afghanistan is a favourite example. But now, the US may be on the verge of being on the receiving end of another one of its Frankenstein monsters.
Geopolitical expert Andrew Korybko has stated,
“Betrayal’ implies that there must have been sincere trust in the relationship, which was never the case with any of the Kurds’ extra-regional Great Power partners, nor will there ever be because of pure Neo-Realist considerations that even they themselves should surely be aware of by now.”.
Korybko is correct to assert that support of various Kurdish insurgencies throughout the years by great powers, has never been motivated by some genuine love of Kurdish ethno-nationalism, but rather because Kurds have often been useful tools in wider geopolitical drives to expand the power and influence of an existing state. It must also be remembered that it was Kurdish militants who did most of the killing that came to constitute the Armenian Genocide of 1915. There was an implied incentive that if Kurds led a genocide of Armenians in Eastern Anatolia, the land and property of slain Armenian families would de-facto be transferred to the historically nomadic Kurds.
Likewise, a similar implied agreement exists between Kurdish militants/terrorists in northern Syria and the United States. So long as the Kurds place loyalty to the US military above any potential loyalties to others, including to the Syrian state which gave them full citizenship, they would be rewarded with US military protection in parts of Syrian territory which Kurds have ethnically cleansed of indigenous Arabs as well as indigenous minorities including Assyrians and Armenians.
Now however, the Kurdish militants are finding that the US is willing to rhetorically slam Turkey for its anti-Kurdish YPG/PKK Operation Olive Branch, but at the same time, the US will not go to war with fellow NATO member Turkey. Thus, many Kurds are realising that the US cares about American ambitions and not Kurdish ones. While this shouldn’t be surprising, when one forms a manifestly asymmetrical partnership, it is a common psychological device for the weaker partner to pretend that the stronger partner is more respectful and egalitarian than it actually is.
Because the reality is sinking in among many Kurds that the US is fighting for ‘America First’ rather than ‘Kurds First” (as it always was, even before Donald Trump re-popularised the old phrase) , some YPG units have decided to ask for relief from America’s main nemesis in Syria, the Syrian Arab Army. While Syrian officials are far too intelligent to fall for such a suicide mission that would undo the hard work of Russian diplomats who have brought Turkey into the fold via the Astana process, Syria is also intelligent enough not to shed the blood of patriotic Syrian soldiers for a Kurdish insurgent movement which threatens the territorial integrity of the country. Here, Syria is putting its own strategic and geopolitical interests above the clarion call of perfidious Kurds who just a month ago were happily replacing Syrian flags with their own, which waved beside the Stars and Stripes of the US Army.
While many are quite rightly remarking on the naivety and disorganisation of Kurdish political movements, the US too will be hearing YPG calls for Syrian assistance and Washington will not be pleased that the inferior partner in its eastern Syrian partnership has not only considered, but openly reached out to America’s opponent. This is not to say that the US is sincere and the Kurds are not–both are equally insincere in their forging of alliances of convenience.
The problem is that just as disgruntled FSA troops could turn on Turkey if not properly managed so too could Kurdish militants turn on their American benefactors under the guise of ‘if you will not help us build a state and fight our Turkish opponent, we’ll do it without you and in spite of you’. Due to the fact that the Kurdish militants are not capable of fighting a winning battle against a regular military, any such battle would be short lived. However, the prospect of some Kurds firing upon American troops if matters spiral out of hand, is now entirely within the realm of the possible.
The lesson in war is to not only know your enemy but to know your partners. Russia for example understands the ambitions of all parties in the Syrian conflict ranging from Syria and Iran to Turkey, the US and “Israel”. Russia of course, also understands the Kurdish aspect to the conflict far better than the United States appears to do.
As Bashar al-Assad once said, “When you put a scorpion in your pocket, do not be surprised when it stings you”. In arming renegade Kurds in Syria, the US has once again armed a scorpion, put it in its pocket and is now standing by for the sting. When one has many ambitions but few tangible strategies, this will always happen.