The Middle East’s Vietnam

Casie Slaybaugh, Staff Writer 

 The civil war occurring in the country of Yemen since 2014 has harbored the most overlooked and devastating civilian tragedy since the Vietnam War. This fight between the Hadi government, supported by a Saudi-led coalition; Houthi rebels, backed by Iran; and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an uncharacteristically bold terrorist organization, has killed over 1,600 soldiers and led to the loss of countless military assets. However, the true victims of this brutal war are the Yemeni civilians caught in the crossfire. Some see the war as a struggle by the Houthis to be treated fairly by the government, while others perceive it as a power play by both Iran and Saudi Arabia to gain control over the Middle East. The United States has been supplying the Saudis with weapons, refueling their planes mid-flight, and providing intelligence on potential enemy strongholds. The United States intervening in this conflict is—for both practical and reputational reasons—a risky move.

An Iranian-controlled Yemen, granted, would be very detrimental to the interests of the United States. Yemen has control over the Bab al Mandab Strait, a narrow body of water connecting the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. 3.8 million barrels of oil pass through this strait daily. If Iran were to gain control of Yemen and of this strait, the Middle East would become even more unstable, oil prices would rise dramatically, and the strength of the United States would be undermined. Additionally, Iran has historically been supported by Russia, which plays a similar role as the United States in Yemen, albeit supporting Iran instead of Saudi Arabia. The long-lasting tension between Russia and the United States has manifested in multiple similar proxy wars and other smaller conflicts in the Middle East, including Syria, Turkey, and Egypt. For these reasons, it is understandable why America feels the need to remain involved in supporting whichever side is not Iran and whichever side does not promote terrorism. The only problem is that the only remaining faction happens to be committing heinous war crimes and displacing millions of civilians.

This third combatant, Saudi Arabia and its coalition, has been condemned by the Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and even the United States House of Representatives, as of November 13th. Despite this, the United States still remains embroiled in the conflict. While the threat of an Iranian-controlled Yemen is certainly strong, the threat of the formation of anti-American terrorists and the loss of American lives should vastly outweigh this, in terms of US interest. By allying ourselves with the group mainly responsible for countless civilian deaths and human rights violations, America opens itself up to the hatred and antagonism of the people of Yemen. Lack of food, medical supplies, and other basic necessities has led to struggling civilians gladly taking such resources from anti-West terrorist organizations in exchange for service. What does it say about the United States that it fights a “War on Terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan, but allows for terrorists to be recruited in Yemen on the means of its own actions?

The war crimes committed by the Saudi coalition are numerous and have been officially recognized and condemned by many organizations and governing bodies. These war crimes include deliberate attacks on civilians—bombings of schools throughout the war, a large funeral procession in October of 2016, three civilian apartment buildings in August of 2017—denying transport of humanitarian aid by bombing and blockading Yemeni ports, failing to protect innocent children from attacks, and many other offenses. By refueling Saudi planes in the air, the United States allows for extended missile-dropping flights, letting the Saudis perform “double tap” strikes, one example being in October of 2016, where one bomb is dropped on civilians and a second is dropped after rescuers come to those wounded in the first strike, wiping out civilians in two savage strings of attack. The bombs dropped on Yemen by the Saudis are typically of US manufacturing, acquired more readily, now, through increases in weapon sales to the country brought on by the Trump administration. By directly aiding in these war crimes, the United States could be maligned on the world stage for aiding and abetting the coalition’s crimes. The implications of these charges could be catastrophic to the global authority and reputation of the United States.

Completely withdrawing US support of the Saudis in this conflict could irreparably damage the relations between the two countries. However, one must ask if this would truly be a bad thing. Surely, all relations would not truly end, as trade between the two nations is vital to each economy—the US is largely dependent on Saudi oil and the Saudis are largely dependent on US weapons sales—but American support of every Saudi action should certainly be ceased. The difference of fundamental values between the two countries is so vast that one can wonder why the US even began supporting Saudi Arabia in the first place. Saudi Arabia is an absolute, theocratic monarchy which adheres to strict Sharia law and tolerates no kind of opposition or disapproval from its citizens. Everything the United States has fought to spread and support—democracy, civilian freedom, human rights—are completely ignored and neglected by Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the Saudis have opposed the United States numerous times in Middle Eastern diplomacy, including during the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in 2011 and, more recently, the Arab isolation of Qatar, in which Saudi Arabia held a leading position. For these reasons, it is completely reasonable for American military and political support of Saudi Arabia to end. Pulling US support of the Saudi coalition may weaken bilateral relations between the two countries, but these are ties that warrant weakening.

While some reasons to withdraw from the Yemeni conflict directly benefit the United States, the most substantial argument for complete disengagement is simply to protect the innocent people of Yemen. Saudi airstrikes and blockades, Houthi landmines and artillery rocket attacks, and hostile AQAP action in the region have all contributed to what has been deemed by many the “worst humanitarian crisis in decades”. Millions are displaced, cholera is sweeping through medical camps, children are malnourished and suffering from treatable diseases, and freedom of speech is being violently oppressed. The Secretary-General of the United Nations has placed the Saudi coalition, the Houthis, and AQAP on the annual “list of shame,” yet nothing has been done to end the violations against children in conflict that earned each group this placement. The United States’ Congress has passed a resolution stating that the Saudis are fighting an unlawful war and that America should withdraw from it, but the American political atmosphere at the moment is so divided that bipartisan support can’t be reached on a law to pull out all support. The people of Yemen have been utterly failed by the international community, populated by citizens who barely know that the country exists. These innocent civilians deserve to have someone stand up for them for they cannot stand up for themselves. Yemen is too small a country to be the fighting ground of a proxy war between two of the greatest powers in the Middle East and, ultimately, two of the greatest powers in the world. Something more needs to be done on an international scale, but must begin with the end of American support of the Saudi coalition.

Iraqi Kurdistan: To Free Or Not To Free

By Casie Slaybaugh, Guest Writer 

The Kurdish Freedom Referendum that took place on September 25th, 2017 brought to light the long-enduring plight of a stateless nation. The Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been semi-autonomous since 1970. Recent developments in the fight against the Islamic State and advances of the Kurdish government have given rise to intensified nationalism and the belief that a free Kurdistan could not only survive as a nation but thrive. Despite many sources’ belief that this prediction could ring true, the Trump administration has put itself in agreement with Iran and stated that the United States does not support a free Kurdistan. I would argue, however, that this administration is mistaken in its disapproval of the independence of the region. A free Kurdistan would not only be beneficial to the Middle East but to the United States as well.

The Middle East is a region teeming with political turmoil. Between oppressive governments, Islamist militant organizations, and more armed conflicts, the Middle East is in dire need of a strong government to serve as a peacekeeping force. Iraqi Kurdistan has shown its military competence time and time again during the fight against the Islamic State. Kurdish forces, called the Peshmerga, played an influential role in the retake of Mosul, as well as in the Battle for Kobane in Syria. Not only can the Kurds hold their own militarily, but the region had been experiencing a decade-long economic boom prior to the rise of the IS. Technology in the Kurdish capital of Erbil is said to be “light years ahead of Baghdad.” The Kurdish government also serves as an example in modern diplomacy and trade: often holding meetings between Iraqi-Kurdish and Turkish leaders, for example, as well as negotiating trade deals with corporations including Exxon Mobil. Clearly, the Kurds are capable of leading their own people into a thriving democracy that is capable of serving as an example and strong military power in one of the most turmoil-stricken regions of the last two centuries. For these reasons, the United States has every reason to support the formation of a free Kurdistan.

Additionally, the American tradition of supporting democracies that share our values must not be ignored. In the decades since the start of the Cold War, a fundamental pillar of American foreign affairs has been a commitment to supporting fledgling democracies. It has been proven time and time again that democratic nations are less likely to engage in war with each other and generally foster good relations with and perceptions of each other. By setting up democracy in a region as chaotic as the Middle East, the Western perception of the area as a whole will evolve into considering it a more similar entity to the West itself, lessening the numerous negative stigmas associated with the region. Helping to establish a democracy that has proven its capabilities to be successful, as Kurdistan has done, in such a turmoil-stricken region could only improve relations between the Middle East and Western nations. The Kurdish people have more than earned the support of the United States and other large democracies and they deserve for their struggle toward full autonomy to be defended.

American must give support because the Kurdistan people share many fundamental values. Compared to other countries in the region, Kurdistan has shown a remarkable commitment to gender equality, with Syrian Kurds passing over 20 “equality decrees” in the year of 2014 alone, allowing women to hold political office, entitling them to equal pay and inheritance, and outlawing non-consenting marriage of women under 18. The Peshmerga is also one of the sole fighting forces in the area to allow female soldiers. Kurdish political parties also strongly favor the separation of mosque and state, clearly similar to the United States’ own separation of church and state. Kurdistan has also been known as a protector of minorities in the region, with many minority populations supporting the formation of a free Kurdistan, even those outside of Kurdish territory. Protection of Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities in the Nineveh Plain and around the Middle East has become a hallmark of Kurdish policy and a large reason for much of the local support of Kurdish independence.

Some would argue that a free Kurdistan would irreparably fracture the fragile political system of the Middle East even further. I would argue against with an analogy to a crumbling building. If the current situation in the region is collapsing ceilings, shattered windows, decaying drywall, wouldn’t it make sense to ensure that the foundation of the building was as strong as one could possibly make it before starting to add reinforcement to the interior? By ensuring the creation of a stable democratic institution in the heart of this “building,” the walls can be more easily rebuilt and the windows more easily replaced.

Certainly, the region would become unstable in the short term, but the high odds of long-term stabilization make this temporary destabilization a risk the West should be willing to take. The numerous issues that a free Kurdistan would immediately bring up—Kurdish revolts in Turkey, minority groups in other countries gaining confidence against their governments—should not be ignored, but instead, be weighed against future benefits that a stable democracy in the region would create.

After September 25th, Iraqi Kurdistan was thrust abruptly into mainstream news. The argument of whether a free Kurdistan should come to exist is one of complex political dynamics and colossal implications. Kurdistan has proved extensively their capability to become a thriving democracy despite their location in the center of one of the most turmoil-stricken regions of the world. This fact combined with the many values they share with the West and the American tradition of supporting fledgling democracies give numerous reasons for the United States to give its support to this prospective nation. While the chaos of the Middle East will likely remain for decades to come, it certainly will not harm the region in the long term for there to be a stable democracy at its center. The United States should support an independent Kurdistan to implement stability and prosperity in an area where these two concepts are seldom present.

How ISIS Changed History’s Cultural Landscape

By Sarah Taylor

Palmyra, Syria used to be a city of magically stoic Roman ruins, steeped in ancient history: a city that bore the scars and wrinkles of a storied civilization. The landscape of ancient Assyria and Mesopotamia was once the pinnacle of civilization, home to the most ancient cities and the dawn of humanity. Palmyra itself represented the fluctuating artistic and architectural influences of the major imperial powers of antiquity, as it went through various periods of independence and control under the Roman Empire. Today, the land is marked by destruction and stands not only as a monument not of historical significance but also of the tragedy that the Islamic State has brought upon Palmyra. One example is the Temple of Bel, a structure that is almost two thousand years old, and was the last remaining early Roman pilgrimage complex. It was completely razed in 2015, as it represented the polytheism of Roman pagan religion. There are countless other examples of destruction that have swept across the Middle East. The library of the Great Mosque in Aleppo was burnt down, causing it to lose rare religious manuscripts. The once-well preserved porticoes and Byzantine mosaics of Apamea in Western Syria have been replaced by complete desolation. ISIS has taken up a program of destroying historic and once-sacred sites in order to clear the area of symbols that go against their Islamic extremism, hiding behind their radical interpretations to justify the destruction of ancient cultures in Syria and Iraq.

Dura Europos is considered the oldest and by some accounts the first, true Christian city of the ancient world. It represented a blending of cultures and religions, with Christianity, Judaism, and Roman paganism influencing each other and producing unique works of antiquity. It is home to not only the world’s oldest synagogue but also the first Christian house church, the predecessor to the development of churches and cathedrals throughout the Roman Empire. Once a truly sacred site to the Christian community, the house at Dura Europos has been taken under control by the Islamic State. ISIS has ransacked over 70 percent of the city, destroying archaeological evidence, and reaping the profits of their looting. Perhaps what is most devastating about the destruction of Dura Europos is the loss of future excavation. When the city was co-opted by ISIS it was still relatively unexplored, having been abandoned in the third century AD and re-discovered in the twentieth century. The future hope to uncover more about how the ancient civilization led to the development of a greater Christian culture is now lost.

Mosul is another example of the extent of the destruction wreaked by ISIS on cultural landscapes. Once standing as an exemplar of rich cultural heritage and some of the oldest historical sites in the world, the city now lies as Iraq’s Ground Zero, the most devastating destruction at the hands of ISIS.  In Mosul, they have not only destroyed Christian communities, but also Sufi and Shia temples and mosques, demolishing archaeological sites from the Ottoman imperial period. Mosul also sits at the crux of ancient civilizations; at different points in time, it was the heart of the Assyrian, Parthian, and Sumerian empires. The Nouri mosque, built in the 12th century, was the seemingly indestructible soul of the city as it withstood regime changes and civil unrest. In June 2014, ISIS declared its capture of Mosul from the mosque. Three years later, the mosque ceased to exist and was replaced by rubble, fear, and a fierce realization of the new reality. ISIS’s destruction, in this case, was spurred by political rather than historical motivations. Since the mosque was a landmark of the city, destroying it would effectively destroy the cultural epicenter of the city, sending a message of authority to the citizens of Mosul.

Rebuilding these cities will be no easy task. The landscape that once stood as the backdrop for the development of all humanity is now irreparably reduced to rubble. These projects are often mismanaged by the governments attempting to restore what once was, as corruption, financial mismanagement and waste, and the existing political and social conflict, prevent them from focusing on rebuilding these lost cities. The rubble and ash marks stand as permanent reminders of the new reality of the remaining citizens now living in fear. Their houses of worship, an institution needed more than ever in this time of despair, have been ripped from the ground. Archaeologists have asked experts to refrain from acknowledging ancient sites, as it will only attract the attention of ISIS to another site to demolish. These sites are also subject to bombing from the powers fighting ISIS, namely the United States and Russia. The new field of “cyber archaeology” is working to create digital reconstructions of lost artifacts, hoping to create digital renderings of not only lost items but entire museums and cities. Though these strides bring us closer to restoring the evidence of such sites, it will never repair the damage done to the landscape itself, which has now lost its uniqueness. The unbroken history of humanity that once stood at sites like Palmyra has been broken by the inhumanity and radicalism of ISIS.

A Nation Without a State: The Kurds

By Emma Dahill

All across the globe there is evidence that nationalist movements are on the rise. The most famous example is, of course, the Brexit vote, but that is far from the only one.  In many European countries, including Germany, Italy, France, and others, populist political movements are gaining support.  But what happens to nationalist movements that aren’t tied to existing states?  That is the question that has brought the Kurdish people to the place they are today.  As a group of people, bound by common heritage but divided by geopolitical borders, the issue of Kurdish autonomy has remained unresolved.  This matter has resulted in numerous bloody confrontations over the years – and just last month it led to a referendum for independence.  The future of the Kurds remains uncertain, in spite of their peaceful vote.  Yet one thing remains clear, the Kurds are not willing to remain divided and powerless to dictate what lies ahead.

The history of the Kurdish people has not been one of harmonious existence.   For nearly a century, the Kurds have sought to gain autonomy in order to bring an end to the marginalization and persecution that they have faced.  In the early twentieth century, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, arbitrary borders were drawn to create the Middle East as it is known today.  The nations established by this mandate represented different cultures and ethnicities, but that was not fully considered when these geopolitical divisions were constructed.  Thus, the Kurds were dispersed into four separate countries, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey.  Although the Kurdish people remain geographically connected, as well as bound by common culture, they have been forced by larger world powers into an artificial multinational construct.  The Kurdish people are instead joined together through shared race, language, and heritage, but separated by the borders of four countries.  Despite being the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, the Kurds have had their autonomy denied – leading to a series of clashes with existing authorities.  During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein conducted the mass killing of thousands of Kurds.  Subsequently, Iraqi Kurds were driven into Turkey to flee brutality and persecution, thus provoking the United States to impose a no-fly zone in Northern Iraq to protect the Kurds.  Over the years, various programs have been aimed at displacing the Kurdish people from their homelands and bringing an end to their political influence.  However, current instability in the region has provided the Kurds with the opportunity they’ve been waiting for to hold a referendum and move towards eventual autonomy.

There is no question that the state of the Middle East is incredibly turbulent.  Unstable governments and violent civil wars have created a power vacuum in which extremist groups have seized power and influence.  In light of these circumstances, the rise of Kurdish nationalism is not a surprising result.  However, the referendum held on September 25, 2017 in Iraq has pushed this group of people one step closer to autonomy.  93% of the votes were in favor of independent statehood, but the ultimate outcome is yet to be determined.  Iraqi leadership has rejected the results on the basis of unconstitutionality, claiming the Kurds held a unilateral vote.  The Iraqi government even shut down flights in and out of the Kurdish region in Iraq, effectively punishing them for holding the vote.  In the face of the referendum outcome, surrounding nations have threatened the use of force if actions are taken towards unifying the Kurds under a new nation.  The prospect of a true Kurdistan threatens the power and influence of Turkey and Iran, thereby throwing them into a state of panic.  Both countries have assured retaliation in the event of further action towards independence.  Turkish president, Erdogan, promised to intervene militarily and cut off oil flow between the Kurdish regions of Iraq and Turkey.  Iran, although historically able to preserve better relations with the Iraqi Kurds, have also promised to intervene in light of the possibility of Iranian Kurdish steps towards independence.  International reaction has been less than positive as countries around the world fear the potentially destabilizing repercussions this vote could have on the entire region.  The Kurdish fighters have been crucial in the fight against ISIL.  The United States sees them as a key ally in the fight against terror, yet the current US administration denounced the referendum as a move that will further complicate the region.  Further political instability in the Middle East could work to potentially benefit terror groups in the region.  Amidst all these reactions, the reality of the results of the referendum remains precarious.

Only time will tell if this referendum will bring about validation for the Kurdish people.  The consequences of Kurdish independence and ensuing statehood could destabilize an already tumultuous region of the globe or create a strong nation of people who have struggled to define themselves since World War I.  The Kurdish people have a rich history and culture that, up to this point, has been subjugated and oppressed.  They have been denied autonomy and recognition, in spite of their contribution to the fight against ISIL.  They deserve their own place in history, yet the circumstances of today’s world are such that independence could breed disaster.

Lampedusa: Europe’s Border Isle

By Jackie Olson

An Italian island with a population just over 6,000, Lampedusa was once considered a secret vacation getaway for Europeans, receiving almost 50,000 tourists a year. Now, due to its proximity to the African continent, just 70 km from the Tunisian coast, it has become a border-state between the EU and the volatile African nations, primarily Libya and Tunisia for thousands of refugees.

In 1985, the first round of the Schengen Treaty was passed which eliminated border checks at most EU-member countries along with the harmonization of visa guidelines. In addition, the legislation ordered whichever Schengen-country first received a migrant would be forced to take responsibility for the individual. This clause within the treaty has proven most problematic to the European Union and for countries especially Greece and Italy with their natural closeness to the migrant countries. Questions concerning the relative fairness to their disproportionate influx of migrants in comparison to other mainland EU countries has been in contention in recent years, especially after the massive increase of migrants to Europe in 2015 running concurrently with the Syrian Civil War.

Lampedusa became a stopping point for refugees into mainland Europe after the passing of the Martelli Law in 1990 which prohibited the free travel of North Africans into Europe and sanctioned airlines and ferry companies from permitting undocumented North Africans to use their transportation services in Europe. The passing of this act, in essence, gave birth to illegal, often unsafe, ways into Europe for migrants and created an opportunity for a border economy: local border entrepreneurs currently charge 1,000 Euros for direct transfer from Tunisia to Lampedusa and North African port authorities have reaped massive profits from mass migration.

In 1998, Lampedusa opened the first detention center and overtime expanded the local services to include longer stays for migrants. The services also changed from non-profit workers to profit which has altered the nature of Lampedusa into an economy that is largely now police and military personnel.

In 2002, Italian naval patrols were forced to direct migrants’ boats to shore resulting in the disproportionate number of migrants to Lampedusa between 2003-2008, in 2008 alone over 30,000 migrants stopped in Lampedusa. Even though North African readmission policies were in place since 1998 with an agreement with Tunisian to send migrants back to North Africa, it took ten years before the policy drastically shaped migration patterns. In 2004, the EU lifted embargos on Libya, at the time the most popular embarking country and stressed for support with naval patrols and deportations. Yet only in 2008 after Italy paid reparations for its colonial history did Qadaffi actively help in the migration crisis, reducing overall migrant travel in 2009-2010.  

Although, after the Arab Spring in 2011, Italy was left to fight the influx of people alone and saw a drastic increase in migration due to the Tunisian Revolution and the Libyan Civil War. The Italian government declared the increase as a North African Emergency which lasted until 2013.  Within that period, 1.5 billion euros were allocated to reception asylum centers and most importantly in 2011, a German court overturned the Dublin Regulation of the Schengen Treaty and permitted migrants to not be deported back to Italy from other countries within the EU, the first country where they entered the European Union. This ruling has had wide repercussions in the crisis, especially after 2013 when Italy declared the Emergency status over and closed many centers leaving once Italian-settled refugees to flood northern European states such as Germany for support.

Yet in 2013, the Lampedusa crisis did not lessen in severity. 14,753 migrants passed through Lampedusa that year and the island was marked by two tragedies. First, on October 3, approximately 500 Eritreans, Somalis and Ghanaians died meters off the shores of Lampedusa, the worst disaster in the Mediterranean since the Second World War. The tragedy brought attention to the efforts on the island and some proclaimed the locals rescue efforts to be worth the recognition of a Nobel Peace Prize. A few weeks later, Italy passed the ‘Mare Nostrum’ act to increase military naval patrols to stop any future tragedies from occurring near Italian waters. Yet in December, Lampedusa’s efforts were thrown aside with the exposure of reports that the local centers sprayed refugees for scabies, sparking massive protests from EU legislators who threatened to block financial support to Italy for their inhumane migration policies.

In 2014, migrant crossings substantially increased to over 165,000 people and was the deadliest year with 3,500 dying in transit. This was primarily due to the defunding of the ‘Mare Nostrum’, a systematic program that was too expensive to fund: over 10 million dollars per month. Italy, instead, looked to the E.U. for a naval search program which instigated the foundation of Operation Triton. Triton was considered useless with its low-budget and short range of 30 miles off Italian coasts.

In the ongoing Syrian Civil War since 2015, Syrians have disproportionately made up the largest nationality of Mediterranean crossings, from January 2016 to April 2017, 83,000 have used the routes to escape the bloody conflict. While in 2015, Italy saw only roughly 150,000 migrants in comparison to the 800,000 Greece had, overtime Italy has increased migrant inflows to roughly its 2011-2013 numbers. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) predicts that Italy will receive 190,000 refugees in comparison to Greece’s 44,000 in 2017.

Yet with the ongoing Islamic State terrorist attacks on European cities, Italy has been less willing to take massive amounts of migrants with the fear that terrorists from Libya will use the Mediterranean routes and ultimately attack the Vatican. Although, Italy may have to actively devote more resources to asylum-seekers, especially after the numerous European elections in 2017 that may place many far-right agendas in power which have condemned open asylum policies. Therefore, while Italy has reached reception capacity, it is currently looking at plans on how to better structure services to refugees with the view that the situation will still be severe but will garner far less internationalist-European  and more nationalist-based sentiment against relief for the mass-migration tragedy. What support Italy will receive or if they will stand as the lone-wolf against the volatile crisis will certainly be seen but will only be another layer added to never-ending cycle of mixed support and anguish from Europeans and the rest of the indecisive world.

The Next Crusade

By Javan Latson

Two hundred and fourty-one United States soldiers were killed in a bombing at the marine compound in Beirut, Lebanon on October 23, 1983.  It was the deadliest attack against U.S. marines since the Battle of Iwo Jima. These individuals were a part of a contingent of 1800 marines stationed in the country since President Reagan dispatched them in 1982. American, English, French, and Italian forces formed a multi-national force that was supposed to help pacify a country that found itself in the midst of a sectarian civil war. The conflict in Lebanon was complicated, involving numerous factions including Christian, Druze, and Shiite militias, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. This situation was further complicated by the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982 with the hopes of creating a buffer against PLO attacks, and the installation of anti aircraft weaponry by Syria in the north. The multinational force (MNF) was sent in to help PLO militants evacuate, protect civilians, and assist the Lebanese government in stabilizing Beirut in what was supposed to be a non-combat mission.

There was no definite timetable as to when the MNF would leave the area, and no clear objectives or methods as to how they were to help the Lebanese restore order in the country.  The mission was subject to frequent change and eventually the MNF was designated as an “interposition force” which is an armed group that serves as a buffer between two warring factions. The role of the U.S. continued to escalate and shift from that of a peacekeeping and humanitarian one to a military deterrent in what was becoming a more and more dangerous place. In the midst of the growing chaos, congress enacted the War Powers Act that authorized the marines to remain in Lebanon for 18 months. Furthermore it was advised that the troops be evacuated from Beirut offshore to one of the U.S. battleships in the region.  However, this was not done and as a result more than 200 lives were lost in attack perpetrated by Shiite militants backed by Iran. Thus President Reagan was forced to withdraw the remaining troops while the French retaliated against an Iranian Revolutionary Guards barrack the month after.

 About 10 years after the Beirut Bombing, President Bill Clinton and the American public watched in horror when seeing the footage of a dead American soldier who was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somali, amidst a crowd cheering Somalis. Simultaneously, Somali-warlord Muhammad Farah Aideed shot down two Blackhawk Helicopters and led other uprisings in the Battle of Mogadishu that killed 18 U.S. servicemen. The American servicemen were originally sent to East African nation in 1992 as a part of a United Nations mission to help provide humanitarian aid to provide food to the thousands of starving people who were enduring a horrible famine. During a speech to the nation, President George H.W. Bush painted a vivid picture of suffering children who were unable to receive assistance due to the anarchy that existed in Somalia. In fact when he sent the troops, he told the public that the men and women participating in the mission were “doing God’s work”.  However, much like the Lebanon campaign, the mission shifted from one of peace to a military endeavor to capture Somali Warlord Aideed after his forces had attacked a contingent of UN troops.  This episode would provide another example of good intentions gone badly, and the current situation in Somalia is no better than it was 24 years ago.

Fast forward to the present. The nation of Syria has been embroiled in civil war for over six years and more than 400,000 people have been killed with millions more being displaced.  What originally began as an attempt to pressure President Assad into making reforms has spiraled into a multisided conflict that now currently involves Russia, U.S., Turkey, Iran, ISIS, and consortium of rebel groups and militias. Under the Obama administration, American action in the region consisted mostly of airstrikes against ISIS and other terrorist groups. Funds, weapons, and training have also been given to anti-government forces that hope to depose the authoritarian Bashar Al-Assad. There is a lot of controversy in regards to supporting groups that we are still unsure of their motives, and even the United States support has led to some instances where rebels funded by the CIA and rebels funded by the Pentagon have fought each other.

Though there have been U.S. forces on the ground in Syria, these troops were mostly Special Forces that have been deployed to provide logistical support and training for our allies. The number of Americans had been kept very low due a cap imposed by the Pentagon under President Obama that limited the number to 500. However, on March 9th it was announced that 400 troops were being deployed to Syria to fight ISIS with plans to send 1000 more in the upcoming weeks. Among those that were sent was a team of Army Rangers and a Marine artillery unit, which raised the number of soldiers in Syria to around 1000. Their mission is to advise Kurdish militants in Northern Syria, share expertise on bomb disposal, help coordinate airstrikes, and provide artillery support. Another 2,500 soldiers are being sent to Kuwait with the expectation that they might also be sent to Iraq (where more than 5000 troops are already deployed) or Syria. U.S. soldiers have already made their presence known earlier this month where photographs were taken of armored vehicles flying American flags driving in the Syrian town of Manbij.

Syrian President Assad has not been silent over the increasing number of Americans in Syria, and has gone as far as to call them “invaders” because he hadn’t given them permission to operate within Syrian borders.  In an interview with Chinese network Phoenix TV he went on to say that U.S. forces being in Syria would not improve the current situation and cited the military failures in Somalia, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan to support his belief that Americans only make things worse. In addition President Assad expects the Trump administration to take a more constructive role in the conflict since both U.S. political parties are against ISIS, but has yet to see him act accordingly.

All things being said, it seems as if the Syrian Civil War is about to get a lot more complicated. Much like Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton before him, President Trump is placing American men and women into an extremely dangerous and volatile situation. Although our soldiers volunteer their lives for the betterment of our country and others, their lives are precious and shouldn’t be thrown away without cause. It’s hard to believe that there will not be a casualty as the troop presence increases, and if something drastic occurs how are we going to respond? Are we going to escalate what is already hopeless situation? What history has taught us is that before entering into enemy territory, there needs to be a clear and definite mission objective as well as a timetable. The frequent change of mission for the MNF in Lebanon and the shift from humanitarian endeavor towards a military excursion only resulted in death and a dissatisfied public. If President Trump truly is America first, then he will take a course of action that values the lives of Americans first and won’t hastily rush into battle in Syria. In order to truly make America great again, we must learn to stop making the same poor choices that have been a detriment our nation.

Mexico, Syria, and the Executive Order

By Victoria Herring

President Trump signed an executive order on January 27, 2016 that banned immigrants from seven primarily Muslim countries in order to keep out “radical Islamic terrorists”: Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. Citizens of these countries were banned from entering the U.S. for ninety days, and authorities were ordered to reject Syrian refugees from opening new visa applications. The order also set the quota for all other entering refugees at 50,000 – a drastic difference from the Obama’s administration’s 85,000 limit. A variety of reactions ensued from the general public – intense criticism and protests along with applause for this new law’s promise of protecting the American ‘homeland.’ Yet critics noted the apparent paradox with the seven-country ban: no person from any of those countries have killed any American in the U.S. since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Chaos reigned in airports where families were detained with no clear instructions for next steps. Dual citizens and green card holders were also detained, while large crowds of protesters accumulated in the vicinity of major international airports. Simultaneously, three federal judges questioned the constitutionality of the order, prompting the president to threaten to challenge the judges at the Supreme Court.

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Above is a map detailing the entry of Syrian refugees primarily in the year 2016. They are concentrated in four states, similar to the pattern with the total number of refugees: 10 states accepted 54% of them, demonstrating that the burden of immigrants is not equally spread out and that border states take the greater responsibility, which affects their economies and workforces significantly. If the weight were to be distributed, perhaps greater immigration numbers could in fact be a more feasible. The influx of Syrian refugees due to extreme turmoil in Syria was up 675% in 2016 as compared to the previous year.

After much confusion, a revised executive order has been proposed. What exactly does it entail, and how has it changed from the original? How will its novelty and controversial regulations affect the lives of millions of immigrants attempting to leave Syria, as well as those in foreign countries who are in the process of applying for Visas?

The new executive order is yet to be approved by the president, but its memos have been signed by John F. Kelly, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. This new order exempts travelers who already have a visa to travel to the U.S., even if they have not used it yet. The White House also said that green-card holders and dual citizens of the United States, and any of the seven targeted countries, are exempt. Nonetheless, the refugee problem in Syria is at a point of crushing immediacy and requires immediate attention.

The Syrian civil war is now in its sixth brutal year. United Nations emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brian describes it as “a slaughterhouse, a complete meltdown of humanity, the apex of horror”. This tragic war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced more than 11 million Syrians from their cities. Children are unfortunately the most drastically affected, as they lose parents, family members and friends. The physical and psychological ramifications of the violence they have observed will undoubtedly manifest itself in coming years. These young Syrians have also fallen years behind in school hampering their already fragile educational efforts. Most Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East, in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. Slightly more than 10 percent of them have left Europe, the majority of these seeking peace in the United States.

The embattled city of Aleppo became well known across the globe when the picture of a young boy salvaged from the remnants of his bombed house went viral on social media.

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While only ten percent of Syrian refugees seek shelter in America, this number still constitutes over one million people. With the Trumps administration’s cap of 50,000 immigrants, and blocking the entry of Syrians, the situation will undoubtedly grow worse. Peace talks have been underway since 2015, with both the rebels and the government struggling to maintain ceasefire and in the process destroying much of an innocent population.

Syria is not the only country to be drastically affected by Trump’s executive order. Millions of Mexican immigrants face the possibility of deportation, as the recently reported memos highlight an increase in the discretion of immigration authorities among previously unharmed groups. required While the Obama administration focused mostly on criminals, Trump executive order will rescind these regulations and seek out many types of undocumented people. Although he will not seek to deport Dreamers – individuals in the U.S. who were brought to the country at an early age without documentation but have assimilated to U.S. culture – parents of these young children along with their families face a fearful directive.

The contested story of Guadalupe is a tragic yet bold example of the danger faced by many people who are currently stateless – they do not have papers from the country in which they were born and remain undocumented in the United States. Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, 36, was deported to Nogales, Mexico on February 16th, 2017,  according to her attorney, Ray Ybarra Maldonado. A mother of two, she came to Arizona at age 14 and lived in the US illegally for 22 years, until the Trump administrations placed priority on any immigrant with a criminal record. She was convicted in 2009 of felony identity theft in a workplace raid for using a fake social security number, and thus was placed on the priority list for deportation.

The consequences for the economies of states where illegal immigrants constitute a large part of their workforce – like California, New Mexico and Arizona – could be detrimental to the nation’s GDP. A Mexican movement dubbed #AdiosProductosGringos on twitter soon received national attention last week to boycott American brands in Mexico, such as Starbucks and Walmart. Unfortunately, these corporations are staffed in Mexico by Mexicans, which would harm their own employment rate. These ramifications will continue if Trump signs the proposed executive order, and if authorities have clear directions on how to carry out protocol. While displaced immigrants in countries like Syria and Somalia, and fleeing immigrants in Mexico, await an action from the White House, the future of millions of people remains uncertain.

The US and Yemen: Why the US Shouldn’t be Involved

By Daria Berstell

In the past few months, the United States has become increasingly entangled in Yemen’s conflict. Since March of 2015, the U.S. has been providing a Saudi-led and largely Sunni-supported military coalition with aid through arms sales and American intelligence. This coalition has been fighting Yemen’s Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, who ousted Yemen’s government in January of 2015. The Houthi rebels seized the presidential palace and several important military installations, resulting in the dissolution of parliament and forcing the president, Abed Mansour Hadi, to flee to Saudi Arabia. The war has now killed an estimated 10,000 people, nearly half of them civilians, according to the United Nations.

Last week, the U.S. went from being tangentially involved in the conflict to being directly involved. On October 13th, an American warship stationed off the coast of Yemen fired cruise missiles at radar installations that American intelligence believed were used by Houthi rebels to target another American warship in two missile attacks the previous week. The Pentagon has characterized the strikes as “self-defense strikes” which were conducted to protect American personnel and freedom of navigation for American ships. This situation has the potential to draw the U.S. into another protracted conflict in the Middle East.

Already, the civil war in Yemen has caused a humanitarian catastrophe and fueled extremism among the country’s citizens. With the U.S. being a vital part of the coalition fighting the rebels, the U.S. bears partial responsibility for the terror and death caused by the Saudi-led coalition. Thousands of civilians have died during their involvement in Yemen’s civil war, with a recent incident being the bombing of the funeral of a prominent rebel leader that killed almost 150 civilians. Human Rights Watch called it an “apparent war crime.” Previously, the coalition also bombed a hospital served by Doctors Without Borders, killing 15 people and destroying the Emergency department of the hospital.

The coalition either does not know how to hit their targets successfully or does not care about killing civilians. Either option is unconscionable. Despite Saudi Arabia’s disregard for human rights, one assumes that they would not intentionally target civilians, meaning that they are killing thousands of civilians accidentally. If the coalition cannot avoid killing thousands of civilians even with the help of American intelligence, the coalition should cease airstrikes immediately. A recent UN report blames 60% of Yemeni children’s death and injuries on bombings and military action taken by the coalition.

In a region so unstable and so prone to fueling extremism, the worst possibility for the U.S. would be to continue to be entangled in a never-ending conflict. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. went into Yemen in hopes of getting the country back after the rebels took over, however, at this point Yemen is near total collapse with 80% of the country in need of some sort of humanitarian aid and extremist groups becoming more radicalized and gaining more followers. This war was started to help the people of Yemen, however, the longer it goes on, the harder it will be to finish it.

The U.S. should not be complicit in these atrocities and should not implicitly condone them by continuing to support Saudi Arabia’s efforts. Arms sales should be stopped until Saudi Arabia is able to wage war without killing civilians and until they commit to negotiating peace  in Yemen. Those arms sales make the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen possible, however, they also provide firepower for other military actions Saudi Arabia takes. For a country with such a terrible human rights record, it does not make sense for the U.S. to be supporting them with military power and intelligence. The United States should not support a nation which does not share our values regarding the value of human life and basic rights.

The conflict in Yemen is difficult and becomes more complicated by the day as more bombs are dropped and more citizens become radicalized. This is especially true with the development of US involvement, which began with Houthi rebels firing on American warships and the Americans responding destroying three radar installations. While retaliatory and justifiable, the US Navy’s response was still the first direct action taken by the U.S. military in this conflict. In addition, becoming further entangled in this conflict in the Middle East runs the risk of forcing the U.S. into several more decades of direct military engagement in the Middle East, just as the U.S. military is slowly beginning to be pulled out.

With a rising civilian death toll and deteriorating living conditions in Yemen, some would say it is logical that the United States should intervene more than it has. But it would be foolish for the United States to become involved directly in a war in Yemen and, following a lengthy and unpopular conflict in Iraq, there would not be support for it among the American people. Given rising extremism and unstable conditions created by the humanitarian crisis, it would be risky for the US to get entangled in yet another conflict in the Middle East. If provided U.S. intelligence made it possible for the coalition to successfully combat the rebels, then that support should be continued, however, even with that intelligence, civilian targets continue to be hit. The U.S.’s involvement has not helped the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen and it is time the administration ceased its support to Saudi Arabia and considered other options.

The Ugly Alliance: Can we justify US/Saudi relations?

By Javan Latson 

For 70 years, our country has maintained an alliance with Saudi Arabia built on oil and security, but is that enough to justify our relationship? It has often been said that Saudi Arabia is one of our few friends in the Middle East and that they are a key partner in the war on terror, however, we need to reduce the support we give them, and stop supplying them with so much political and military aid. We can’t continue to support a regime that exports radical ideologies, oppresses their citizens, and works against our interests in the region.

The U.S has placed several nations under economic sanctions because of human rights violations. Cuba, North Korea, and Burma are all countries that are currently paying the price for their discriminatory domestic policies. One must wonder why Saudi Arabia isn’t also reprimanded by the U.S. for how they treat their citizens. The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that is governed by a strict interpretation of Sharia law. There are no formal democratic institutions in the country since political parties are forbidden, and until last year women weren’t allowed to vote. Torture and arbitrary arrests are common and many people are held in custody for long periods of time before trial. This is a country where one can be beheaded for homosexuality, apostasy, armed robbery, adultery, and even sorcery. Stoning and death by firing squad are other means of execution, and most are held in public. It’s entirely hypocritical for the U.S. to keep turning a blind eye to this barbarism when other countries are punished for the same behavior.

Despite horrid domestic laws, Saudi Arabia’s foreign policies are no better, and we suffer because of many of their policy decisions. The Saudis spend millions of dollars on the creation of religious schools in order to spread fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam throughout the world. These schools tend to be vehemently anti-western/anti-American and many of their graduates become recruits for radical Islamic terror groups. Organizations like Al-Haramain and Al Waqf Al-Islami are examples of Saudi “charities” which finance the spread of radical Islam and support imams that preach this strict interpretation of Islam. The effect of these schools can especially be seen in traditionally moderate Kosovo, which has become a pipeline for jihadists following a large influx of Saudi funded mosques and imams.  Many EU countries have made the connection between the spread of Wahhabism with extremism yet our government has made no efforts to pressure the Saudis to reconsider their missionary work.

Furthermore, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, has not been a valuable asset in the current conflict against ISIS and has actually done much to destabilize the region. The U.S. and the Saudis agree that President Assad must step down in order to for Syria to transition towards peace. However, we have different goals and objectives in the region. Our main priority is defeating the Islamic State through an aerial campaign and by supporting “moderate” rebels with training and weaponry. Although ISIS is seen as a threat by many western nations including the U.S., one would think that the Saudis would contribute more to the campaign due to their geographic proximity. The Saudis have a defense budget of about 46 billion dollars and are the top buyer of U.S. weaponry, meaning they are equipped to be a key partner in the coalition. Despite this, they have contributed virtually nothing in the air campaign. On the ground, Saudi Arabia finances a great deal of the training programs for rebel groups, but they also support Islamist groups like Al-Nusra who we deem terrorists. While we are conducting the majority of combat operations against ISIS, Saudi Arabia is currently engaged in Yemen against Houthi Rebels. This intervention has not produced any positive results but has destabilized the region and created a foothold for Al-Qaeda. To make matters worse it hurts our nation’s reputation abroad when someone is indiscriminately bombing civilians with American hardware. All this does is fuel the fire for a community already resentful of the United States and helps provide the propaganda extremists thrive on, that America is a tyrant that supports oppressive regimes.

There is a lot of money to be made from our alliance with the Saudis, as they are the number one importer of American weapons, providing an economic angle to the partnership. Though a Saudi U.S. alliance is certainly profitable, can we continue to justify our support for them purely because it’s good for business? Our nation has supported some very questionable governments but it’s time for us to reevaluate our strategies for the region and whether or not the Saudis should play a role in our policies in the Middle East. Instead of being a symbiotic and positive relationship, ours is a parasitic one with Saudi Arabia. We don’t need to maintain a close partnership with the Saudis when can work with other states in the area such as Egypt, the UAE, Qatar, and Israel. These states may not all be ideal western democracies, but they are in strategic locations and for the most part work well with U.S. interests. Three of these states are Sunni, and all buy large amounts of American weaponry, which serves in the interests of those in the defense industry. Also, current trends in the oil market have lowered the price of crude oil to the point that we no longer need to depend on Saudi Arabia for energy. We can attempt to develop or improve relationships with the other members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (especially those in Latin America) and free ourselves from the potential entanglements of Saudi energy dependency. It’s time for our nation to reevaluate who we consider our friends and not allow the past to dictate how we handle future and present events in this ever changing world.

An Unholy Alliance: Turkey’s Support for ISIS

by Christopher Zhang

 

“They just let them pass” commented local Kurds on the Syrian border with Turkeys, witnessing the migration of dozens of ISIS militants, clad in black, over the Turkish-Syrian border to join the fight against Kurdish forces, which so far has claimed the lives of 100,000 Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish militants. “But they don’t let the Kurds cross.”


These observations, along with others presented in several local and international newspapers, highlight tensions over growing accusations that Turkish border guards are turning a blind eye to the flow of ISIS militants into Syria and Iraq, and reflect international suspicious about Turkey’s intentions.

 

Early this year, a parliamentarian from the Republican Party (CHP), a major opposition party to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), accused the AKP of allowing President Erdogan’s son Bilal to traffic Islamic State oil. Claiming he had proof to back up his accusations, he has since been called a traitor by Prime Minister Davutoglu of the AKP.

 

The accusations, should they be true, raise serious questions. How could a NATO ally be supporting ISIS? The answer: Turkey is using ISIS as a tool, and it is not alone. Throughout the Middle East, support for ISIS among governments such as Saudi Arabia has been an ad hoc policy of pragmatism to achieve their short-term aims. Turkey does not necessarily agree with ISIS, but sees ISIS as a useful but immoral instrument for its own ambitions.

 

To fully understand Turkey’s alleged support for ISIS, one must understand not only the country’s historic relationships with the rest of the world and various internal ethnic groups, but Erdogans’ individual visions, aims, and his progress at achieving those aims so far. Erdogan is the key personality in all the major crises in the Middle East, from the Israel-Palestine conflict to the civil war in Syria to the refugee crisis . This is because he is the most successful politician to have risen out of Turkey since the age of Ataturk, and has turned, during his 14 year rule, the nation from a backwater into the area’s leading economic power. Turkey’s GDP is greater than that of the Middle East and North Africa from Morocco to Iraq combined.

 

Turkey has always been the key player in Balkan and Central Asian affairs since the rise of the Byzantine Empire in 330 AD. A variety of civilizations, including Greeks, Turks, Altaics, and Mongols, have ruled the Anatolian plateau during that time and found the geography to be favorable for their ambitions. The “crossroads of Europe and Asia,” Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous city, has for centuries been the center of the world’s spice trade. Today, it is a critical port that commands Russian access to the Mediterranean, the flow of Middle Eastern gas to the EU, and the flow of Syrian refugees to the rest of the world.

 

This favorable strategic position is one of the main reasons that strategic think tank Stratfor asserts Europe is unwilling to punish Turkey for its transgressions. Turkey, is too vital a junction. Over the course of the past decade, Turkey has also made such a punishment impossible. After AKP negotiators backpedalled on Turkey’s accession bid into the EU, the nation has taken an independent foreign policy course. Today, it is one of the world’s leading banking centers, and the country commands the most prosperous financial sector in the Mediterranean. Furthermore it is self-sufficient in agriculture, technology, and manufacturing. Most importantly, today, Turkey produces over 70% of its own military equipment; it was at 17% when Erdogan took power. This makes it incredibly challenging, if not impossible, for the West to punish Turkey. In supporting radicals, Turkey has nothing to lose.

 

However, Turkey is still dependent on others for one major resource: oil. Turkey imports about 66% of its energy needs. Despite exploiting massive shale oil reserves and starting the construction of over 23 nuclear power plants, Turkey is nowhere near energy efficient. This has led to controversial foreign policy moves such as Turkey’s close relationship with Iran, and Turkey’s participation in the smuggling of Iranian oil during the US sanctions. Further complicating relations with Western countries is that one of Turkey’s main sources of oil, Russia, is growing more and more distant with NATO.

 

However, when Turkey shot down the Russian jet on the Syrian border months ago, it signaled a shift from where Turkey imported its energy. Now, Turkey has turned to trafficking oil from ISIS. To keep Turkey’s vibrant economy going, the country needs a reliable source, and neither Russia nor Iran can provide it. The sources they have looked to are two conflicting and paradoxical factions: ISIS, and the Kurds. Ironically, a main reason Turkey supports ISIS is that such a move actually not only allows them to purchase the group’s oil, but makes it easier for them to get oil from the Iraqi Kurds. To import directly from the Kurds is difficult, as a one unified Kurdistan does not exist. In fact, the Kurdish people themselves are sharply divided into four main factions.

 

One such faction is the Kurdish Regional Government, the entity in Northern Iraq that most in the West refer to as “Kurdistan” is ruled by the shrewd President Barzani, who maintains close ties with Turkey. The Turkish government, apparent experts in smuggling oil, have allowed him to illegally transport Kurdish oil through their borders, avoiding fees that the Kurds are obliged to pay in theory to the Iraqi government. The oil rich lands of Iraqi Kurdistan have been a priority for Turkey to control through a puppet government. Today, the Barzani government of Kurdistan is almost totally dependent on Turkey. Equally importantly, it is widely suspected that Barzani and his family receive sizable bribes from the Turks.

 

The second Kurdish faction is Barzani’s opposition, which is now scattered and was largely backed by Iran. The conflict between the two highlights extent of Kurdish polarization. In 2007, the two major factions fought a civil war for control over Kurdistan. Turkey, with more military and economic resources than Iran, was able to fund their faction to victory. As a result, the power of President Barzani’s opponents has been greatly reduced, but many speculate that Iran’s factions are planning a comeback, through democratic elections or through force of arms.

 

The third and most powerful faction of Kurds is also the most hostile to Turkey: the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or the PKK. Listed as a terrorist group in the EU and the US, the PKK has nevertheless built a massive base of support among the Kurdish diaspora, and fights the hardest and most grueling fight that the Kurds face: the one against the Turkish army. While the Kurds have other enemies: Bashar Al-Assad, the FSA, ISIS, and Iran, Turkey is by far the hardest to combat. With the second largest army in NATO, just behind the United States, the well-equipped and elite Turkish forces have launched repeated offensives against the PKK the past several years. To survive in such a climate, the PKK had to be resilient. It is estimated the force has over 7,000 fighters today, and they are among the most veteran, crack troops of the Kurds.

 

The fourth and final faction is the YPJ-Rojava; it is made up of two Syrian Kurdish forces that have united to carve out a nation state in Syria. Both are hostile to Turkey and the Turkish-backed FSA, and are very close to the PKK. Aiming to establish a Kurdish state in Syria to counteract the Turkish-aligned Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, they are also a direct threat to Barzani’s authority, leading the KRG to shut the border with the Syrian Kurds. This has left the YPJ and Rojava in a desperate situation, always on the brink of disaster. To make matters worse, Turkey continually bombs them, despite the support they receive from America.

 

Divided Kurdish politics are key to Turkey’s attitude towards ISIS. However, it is important to emphasize that ISIS is a tool for Turkey, not an ally. After all, ISIS has bombed Turkey on multiple occasions. While Turkey openly has its army, Special Forces, and planes assist President Barzani’s fight against ISIS, it has dispatched  planes to bomb YPJ and Rojava forces fighting ISIS. Meanwhile, Turkey has broken its ceasefire since 2013 with the PKK, launching an all-out attack with its army against PKK forces in Southeastern Turkey and Northern Iraq, violating Iraqi sovereignty.

 

It is clear from these moves what Turkey’s objective is. Erdogan aims to kill two birds with one stone and solve two major Turkish problems: the oil problem and the Kurdish problem. His end goal is for the Syrian Kurds and the PKK to die out, and for Barzani to rule over the KRG in Northern Iraq, concentrating the entire Kurdish movement in the hands of his close ally. This would result in the atrophy and death of the Kurdish cause: the PKK attracts so many followers because its cause is appealing to overseas Kurds. It is a principled, vigorous movement fighting on behalf of the single biggest Kurdish population: the Kurds in Turkey. The YPJ and Rojava have large amounts of international sympathy as well, fighting daily for their survival. If those two factions are defeated, either by the Turkish army, or by ISIS, then that would leave only Barzani and his Iranian-backed opposition, both of whom are seen by many Kurds as collaborators with foreign powers. International sympathy for Kurdish nationalism, including American support, would end.

 

This would leave the remnants of Iraqi Kurdistan as a natural resources colony of Turkey. Erdogan is well aware that Turkey cannot rule Kurdistan directly; the antipathy of the Kurdish people towards the Turks is too great. However, insofar as Barzani develops the economy of the region and receives Turkish military backing, he will stay in power. It is clear the Barzani understands the role he must play in Erdogan’s game, and has focused almost all Kurdistan’s development budget on the construction of refinery after refinery. By 2017, Iraqi Kurdistan will have five refineries, a gigantic investment. For comparison, its large neighbor Iran has zero. Turkey’s aim, which appears to be coming into fruition, is to turn the Kurds into an oil protectorate, solving its energy problems.

 

The past several months have seen Erdogan removing the obstacles in his path. Last year, many predicted Erdogan was finished, because he did not gain a majority in the early 2014 legislative election, despite commanding the largest single party. Since his party had only 40% of the seats, his enemies could have unseated his Prime Minister, Davutoglu, from power, if they could form a coalition. Shrewd as always, Erdogan drove a wedge between them, and came up with a strategy that solved his legislative problem. He knew his defeat was due to the rise of the new Kurdish Peace and Democracy (HDP) party. Accordingly, Erdogan invaded Turkish Kurdistan, launching brutal and devastating offensives against PKK strongholds such as Hakkari and Cizre. This not only prevented a coalition between the Kurdish HDP and the Nationalist party, as the latter cheered Erdogan on to the Kurds’ disgust, but it raised Erdogan’s popularity amongst nationalists, causing him to gain some of the Nationalist vote. Furthermore, it prevented Kurds from voting in the next election, since the Southeast had become a dangerous warzone. Calling snap elections, Erdogan decisively won a second election that happened the same year.

 

Other obstacles existed to Erdogan’s plot as well. For one, international pressure had built on him after ISIS attacked Paris. International outcry against ISIS had provoked support for the Kurds, and the international refugee crisis has caused the European union to call for more transparency in Turkish policy. With American weapons, Syrian Kurds were making a comeback, throwing back ISIS. Worse yet for Erdogan, they had made an alliance with Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad, and helped him cut off the Free Syrian Army’s supply line from Turkey to Aleppo.

 

Erdogan’s true allies in Syria were his pet faction: the Free Syrian Army, which was described by international press as his “brainchild.” For months, they had gone through a stretch of bad luck. Assad’s offensives, backed by Russian air cover, had dealt serious casualties. With Turkish aid, they reformed their disorganized force, which just a year earlier the Russian Foreign Minister said was a “ghost organization” into a trained, professional army. Had it not been for Erdogan’s counter-move, the effort to reform would have come too late. Assad recently surrounded the city of Aleppo, cutting off FSA supply lines. The FSA was in a massive predicament.

 

The FSA was already troubled. One of its most powerful secularist arms, the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, was under attack from non-Turkish aligned forces from as early as 2013. The Army of Conquest, an Islamist front led by the Al-Qaeda branch in Syria called Jabhat Al Nusra, had launched an offensive to drive the SRF out of Idlib, in Northern Syria. Virtually the entirety of the SRF was destroyed.

 

To solve both of these problems for the FSA, Erdogan again used ISIS on two separate occasions. Regarding Jabhat Al-Nusra, the solution was simple. In 2014 ISIS, after Al-Nusra had attacked Idlib, charged into Jabhat Al-Nusra’s territory and virtually exterminated the force. Around 80% of Jabhat Al-Nusra defected to ISIS, removing a main rival of the Free Syrian Army. Since 2014, Al-Nusra has been a compliant sidekick to the FSA, a minor force that has backed the main, Turkish-supplied secular army.

 

On the second occasion, regarding the ongoing siege of Aleppo, Erdogan’s moves also involved clandestine methods. Securing Russian approval to create a “security corridor” in Northern Syria, Turkey moved hundreds of troops into ISIS-controlled territory in Syria, claiming to be ‘militants.’ Turkey was able to get Russia to agree by convincing Saudi Arabia to release a joint statement saying that if Russia did not make concessions, the two nations would invade Syria, likely removing Assad. For a while, it seemed as if Erdogan’s security corridor occupation was a genuine invasion of ISIS. However, the situation on the ground proved otherwise. ISIS had given up the cities Turkey seized without a fight. Those cities also happened to be places where the Kurds were advancing through to attack the FSA. Soon, Turkish forces started shelling not only the Kurds, but the Syrian government troops outside Aleppo. In a rare and ironic moment, Putin had been duped. The Turkish deployment was meant to be an attack on ISIS. In reality, it turned out to be a way of stopping the Kurds from cutting off FSA supply lines, and a way to attack Assad’s forces in Aleppo.

 

In this way, ISIS has become a tool of Turkish foreign policy. Erdogan does not support ISIS because he agrees with them, but because they serve his short-term interests. Curiously, Turkey smuggles only about half of ISIS’s oil. The other half is trafficked by Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. The West should be watchful of Turkey and put serious pressure on the country to reverse its course of action. Erdogan has proved a shrewd but cynical politician whose vision of an FSA-ruled Syria and a subordinate, Barzani-controlled Kurdish movement comes ever closer to fruition. His central tool in the pursuit of both of these tools is the Islamic State.