If President Trump continues to remain silent on the Kurdistan referendum, he risks botching the most consequential moment for American national interests in the Middle East this century.
Should the Kurds of northern Iraq succeed in their independence ambitions, it would create the possibility for the rise of the first secular, liberal nation in the Middle East since Israel’s 1948 declaration of statehood. Now is the time for President Trump to act decisively and back this movement before it’s too late and a momentous opportunity falls by the wayside.
This weekend, the Kurdish people started voting on whether to secede the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq from Baghdad and become an independent state of Kurdistan. Currently, the results show that about 92 percent of Kurds support the creation of an independent Kurdistan.
Infuriated Arab states and Iran have issued ultimatums against the Kurdish government, demanding they stop the secession movement at once, or risk military conflict. A rapidly metastasizing vacuum of American leadership is causing U.S. allies and adversaries to seize the opportunity in an attempt to choke off the blossoming statehood movement.
Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened a blockade to starve the people of the autonomous region. He also threatened military action should the KRG proceed with the referendum.
“If [KRG President Masoud] Barzani and the Kurdish Regional Government do not go back on this mistake as soon as possible, they will go down in history with the shame of having dragged the region into an ethnic and sectarian war,” Erdogan said in a speech Tuesday.
The Iran-influenced Shia government in Iraq has threatened to close off the borders and airspace over Iraq and cut off trade with the Kurds. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi is giving the Kurds three days to comply or face an indefinite embargo.
So far, only Israel has publicly offered support for an independent Kurdistan.
But the Trump administration has thus far condemned the Kurds for seeking sovereignty. On Monday, the State Department released a statement declaring that the U.S. is “deeply disappointed” in the KRG’s decision to hold the referendum.
In opposing the Kurdistan referendum, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stated Monday that a unified Iraq was the best way to fight against ISIS and Iran. However, evidence has shown that a unified Iraq isn’t a good bulwark against either actor.
While the Kurdish Peshmerga has become the most productive Middle East fighting force against ISIS, the Iraqi Army flees ISIS advances, leaving U.S. weapons and aid behind. Instead of stopping Iran, the Iraqi government has become a client-state of Iran.
President Trump himself has yet to publicly comment on the issue of Kurdish independence, though his top advisers remain committed to their failed status-quo policies in Iraq.
An independent Kurdistan supports the advancement of American interests abroad, and serves as a vital partner in the war against global jihad. Kurdistan would make for a reliable ally in a region with very unreliable “allies.” Contrary to the D.C. foreign policy establishment consensus, the decentralization of Iraq and Kurdish independence would surely result in a more stable, less threatening Middle East. But time is running out.
President Trump should follow in the footsteps of former President Harry Truman, who ignored the pleas of his Arabist bureaucratic advisers and recognized the modern state of Israel immediately after its declaration of independence.
A mere public statement of support from President Trump will provide the Kurds with the diplomatic firepower that is necessary to succeed in achieving independence. The Kurds are willing to do all of the heavy lifting, and they have what it takes to independently defend their blossoming nation. All they need is a little diplomatic cover fire to get them to the finish line.