Donald Trump has abandoned the Kurds of Syria, leaving them vulnerable to attack by Turkey. Kurdish troops, called the YPG, are American allies, and were the most effective force in countering ISIS, losing over 10,000 of their own in battles against the malevolent foe. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, however, accused the YPG of having ties to Kurdish insurgents within his nation. He repeatedly threatened an assault inside Syria, but was held back by the knowledge that he’d be confronting US soldiers on the other side. Their numbers were small, but even one American casualty would be disastrous for Turkey, a member of NATO, though one that has looked increasingly uncomfortable within the alliance.

The solution was to form a buffer zone between the Syrian and Turkish border. Instead, President Trump has pulled American troops out of the region, leaving the field clear for Erdogan. Victory will not come easily for the Turkish leader, since the YPG are veterans battling on their own turf, but they are hopelessly outgunned by Turkeys’ military.

We can put the withdrawal down to Trump’s cluelessness, but it is consistent with past American policies in being the latest in a long list of US abandonments.

Fake vaccination programme

Remember Shakil Afridi? He’s the doctor who helped establish Osama Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad by conducting a fake vaccination programme. It is a separate matter that the CIA’s use of this tactic set back real campaigns against polio, and endangered doctors in a number of war zones. Afridi was arrested by the Pakistani authorities, convicted on dubious charges of assisting the militant group Lashkar-e-Islam, and sentenced to 33 years in prison. Had the Obama administration been serious about helping him, it had a number of levers it could have used to set him free. Instead, it let him rot in prison.

In 1990, the United States led an alliance to liberate Kuwait from the grip of Saddam Hussein. After the end of hostilities in February 1991, the CIA stoked an insurgency within Iraq, hoping to overthrow the Ba’athist regime. The Kurds of Northern Iraq launched a rebellion, as did the Marsh Arabs in the south, and both captured significant cities and provinces. Strangely, the administration of George H. W. Bush allowed Saddam Hussein
to use his considerable residual arsenal freely against the rebels.

He soon turned the tide of the conflict, bombing the Kurds into submission, leading to an exodus of refugees into Iran and Turkey. No Fly Zones were eventually put in place to minimise the damage, and an autonomous Kurdish province established in the north, but the Marsh Arabs got no support while Saddam Hussein drained the wetlands of the Tigris- Euphrates river system, depriving them of their livelihoods.

A boy pulls his belongings along a street in eastern Mosul, Iraq, in 2017. Credit: Marko Djurica/Reuters

The Gulf War was the largest conflict involving the US since the Vietnam War ended in 1975. Among the most steadfast US allies in that South East Asian misadventure were the Hmong of Vietnam and Laos, and the indigenous highland people of Central Vietnam known as the Montagnard. When the Americans fled, they left their erstwhile friends behind to face the hostile regimes of two nations. There were no Montagnard on the last helicopter out of Saigon.

Those Hmong who could get out, found their way to Thailand, and tens of thousands eventually made it to the United States. The youngsters gradually assimilated into US society, but the mostly uneducated elders depended on state aid to survive. However, in 1998, under Bill Clinton’s welfare reform push, they found their access to food stamps had been cut off so the federal government could save all of $ 9 million.

A sordid history

We could keep delving further back into this sordid history of betrayal, treachery and double crossing, but one final example will suffice. It goes back to the very birth of the United States as a nation. The Declaration of Independence of 1776 made the United States a country that could seal treaties with foreign powers. In its war with colonial Britain, the 13 colonies felt the need for help from the indigenous people of North America. Accordingly, in 1778, the United States forged an alliance with the Lenape, or Delaware Indians.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Fort Pitt, the US promised to recognise the Lenape as a sovereign nation, and even offered them representation in Congress as a separate and autonomous state of the Union. The chief of the Lenape, named Koquethagechton or White Eyes,a consistent advocate of peace with the colonies, personally guided the American expedition through Ohio to the British stronghold of Fort Detroit. The expedition was not a success, and the Americans claimed White Eyes had died of smallpox during the campaign. It emerged later that the Lenape leader had been murdered by Americans once he was no longer of use to them.

The map of the United States never included a sovereign Lenape nation.