Observations of an ex pat: Ashamed

I am ashamed to be an American. That has not always been the case. For most of my life I have been very proud of my heritage.  And hopefully, I will be again.  America is responsible for much good. Its historic stand for democracy and human rights has been inspiring. Its modern achievements in science and technology are staggering,  as are American contributions to world culture, support for the rule of law and the can-do Horatio Alger pioneer spirit.

That is not to say they are no black spots in its historical record: Slavery and the Jim Crow laws; a genocidal war against Native Americans; an iffy war in Cuba and the Philippines; the McCarthy witch hunts; the Vietnam War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq to name but a few. But overall, the American contribution over the past 243 years has been overwhelmingly positive—until now.

The United States has turned isolationist and unilateralist. It has imposed extra-territorial laws on the world while refusing to accept the legality of other nation’s laws. It undermines alliances and regional groups which have maintained the peace for nearly 85 years. Its president praises populist dictators and near-dictators while attacking democratic allies; rides roughshod over the rule of law and forcibly separates families. American foreign policy has been reduced to an interminable string of outrageous blustering threats while its domestic debate is little more than lies suffused with personal insults.

It is too easy to lay the blame at the door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Donald Trump has a lot to answer for, but America is a democracy. The American people voted him into office. He is a reflection of a growing body of opinion. His approval ratings have been a fairly steady 40-45 percent, about the same as those for Boris Johnson and Angela Merkel. A loud-mouthed, mercurial bully has touched a chord with an American electorate who believe that their generous nature has been abused for far too long.

It is time to put “America first” and if that means damaging the world economy with the imposition of swingeing tariffs or the abandonment of comrades in arms, then so be it.

America would have found it difficult to find a moral loyal group of comrades then the Kurds. They were an essential element in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. A coalition of American-led warplanes reduced to rubble towns and villages held by the Caliphate. But as soon as they flew away the fanatical Jihadists crawled out of their tunnels to reclaim the streets. Victory could only be achieved with boots on the ground and the Kurds provided those boots.

Part of the problem is that the Kurds are not a state and never have been. They are an ethnic cultural entity that stretches across a landlocked territory which encompasses parts of Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran. They tried to become a state. When the tide of nationalism swept through the world at the end of the 19th and beginning of the twentieth century the Kurds made their bid for their own country. In World War I they aided the British fight against the Ottoman Empire and their claim for independence was on the table at the Paris Peace Conference. It reappeared at the 1920 Treaty of Sevres. But by 1923, London decided A Kurdish state clashed with its other interests in the region and Kurdish demands didn’t even merit a mention in the in the Treaty of Lausanne. Two years later they were being actively suppressed in Turkey and Iran. The British stabbed their former allies in the back in much the same way as the Americans are doing now.

The problem is Turkey. It is simply viewed as  more important. There are35 Million Kurds and 80 million Turks. Turkey is strategically located. It straddles the Europe and Asia and the vital waterway of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus which links the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. The Kurdish territories are landlocked mainly mountainous regions. Turkey is a member of NATO. It has the alliance’s second largest land army and hosts strategic air and missile bases.

Turkey also has the largest Kurdish population in the region. Eighteen percent of the Turkish population—half of all the Kurds in the region—live in Turkey.  Since the 1920s successive Turkish governments have suppressed the Kurds in varying degrees. In 1978 it has been full-scale suppression. The Kurdish language is banned as is the Kurdish nationalist party the PKK. Since 1984 an estimated 40,000 Turkish Kurds have died. Many of them were simply murdered or tortured to death. Turkey has been roundly condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for human rights abuses.

The ISIS-caliphate was another threat to the Kurds as most of the Jihadists were based in the Kurdish areas in Iraq and Syria.  The American-led war against ISIS was also an opportunity. By allying themselves with the United States. and paying the price with thousands of lives,  the Kurds won the protection of the world’s most powerful nation—or so they thought.

Morality, human rights and loyalty has lost out to Super Power politics.  Trump has emphasised his America First policy at the expense of undermining US promises everywhere else in the world.  He is in danger of being left with an America Alone Policy.


* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain” that has sold out in the US after six weeks but is still available in the UK.

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  • Richard Underhill. 12th Oct '19 - 10:44pm

    America would have found it difficult to find a MORE LOYAL group of comrades then the Kurds.
    At one stage Poland was divided between the Russian Empire, The Austro-Hungarian empire and Germany (Prussia).
    At one stage this party passed an emergency motion in favour of the Kurds at federal conference. It is probably out of date now so new policy would be needed.

  • Until recently no Kurds lived in Turkey, only Turks and Mountain Turk lived there. I suspect the concept of the Mountain Turk will be reborn.

    Massacres, such as the Dersim ethnocide and the Zilan massacre, have periodically occurred against the Kurds since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. The Turkish government categorized Kurds as “Mountain Turks” until 1991,[7][8][9] and the words “Kurds”, “Kurdistan”, or “Kurdish” were officially banned by the Turkish government.[10] Following the military coup of 1980, the Kurdish languages were officially prohibited in public and private life.[11] Many people who spoke, published, or sang in Kurdish were arrested and imprisoned.[12] In Turkey, it is illegal to use Kurdish as a language of instruction in both public and private schools. The Kurdish language is only allowed as a subject in some schools.[13]


  • Rodney Watts 13th Oct '19 - 9:29am

    Thank you Tom for succinct summing up of how you feel as an American liberal. Interestingly your piece is mirrored by Renaud Girard of Le Figaro https://radixuk.org/opinion/the-tragic-abandonment-of-the-kurds-of-syria/ He points out that not only have the Kurds been let down, but also the French troops stationed in Rojava. Macron has some serious thinking to do. It was De Gaulle who, in the Soviet era, first promoted the importance of a strike force independent of America.

    All this reminds me of in 1961/2 when the Kurds were oppressed in Iraq and as chairman of Birmingham Uni UN Students Association I was tasked to present a motion at national conference requesting the provision of a national homeland. At least this has recently been partly achieved in Iraq, but Turkey clearly presents enormous problems. One cannot divorce these considerations from our Brexit machinations involving both the EU and the US. We are indeed in troubling times.

  • Tom, I lived in the USA for a year as an LLM student. I learned a lot about its history, good and bad. The ideals on which the USA was founded are as relevant as ever and need to be continually reaffirmed. For me it’s painful to watch the struggle – sometimes not just of ideals but physical – between those who still uphold those ideals and a minority who reject them. It’s linked to the similar struggle we Brits are in the middle of. Maybe the support for Trump and the far right is an inevitable backlash against eight years of a black president – an innovation that revived old resentments and was just too much for some sectors of the population however well President Obama did (personally I think he was a terrific president). But despite that, Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by nearly 3 million. I myself don’t think Trump would have won without illegal interference in the election. I think the majority of Americans are decent fair minded people. I just hope they will mobilise in greater numbers in 2020.

  • Denis Mollison 13th Oct '19 - 9:19pm

    @frankie 12th Oct ’19 – 11:13pm
    “Until recently no Kurds lived in Turkey, only Turks and Mountain Turk lived there.”
    I take it you’re being ironic here – “Mountain Turk” was a term invented by Turks who wanted to pretend the Kurds didn’t exist.

    The problem is particularly acute just now because Erdogan won power around 5 years ago by demonising his own (Turkey’s) Kurdish population – reversing a successful internal peace process.

    I hope our leadership will speak up strongly for the Syrian Kurds, but I shall be pleasantly surprised if there is anything effective the UK does to stop Erdogan. As Tom says, Turkey is viewed as too important strategically for “the West” / Nato for effective sanctions. Trump seems to have already forgotten his economic threats to Turkey if they invaded the Kurdish areas of Syria.

    It is all the more sad because the Syrian Kurds seem to have adopted a very open, liberal form of Government for their autonomous (?sic) region of Rojava, in particular recognising gender equality in a way very unusual in the Islamic world.

  • Denis
    GIven the next bit of my post mentioned massacres and oppression, I think you can safely say as I’m in favour of neither policies for any group of people, that yes I am being ironic.

  • Peter Hirst 14th Oct '19 - 2:03pm

    Has Turkey not heard of devolution and local democracy? It needs to look to Spain, despite its issues. For both America and Turkey it’s processes that need improving so that there is more ability for the people who live in places to determine its policies.

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