The Plight of the Iraqi Kurds Poses a Difficult U.S. Foreign Policy Challenge

    John Glaser, Christopher A. Preble

    Security, Middle East

    Cigarettes market are seen in the town of Zakho, Iraq October 11, 2017. Picture taken October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Ari Jalal

    Despite good intentions, the United States should not pursue high-minded objectives that are peripheral to national security.

    Following the Iraqi army’s move into the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq this week, some have argued forcefully that the United States should intervene to protect the Kurds and even aid in their aspirations for an independent state. A Wall Street Journal editorial warns that abandoning the Kurds “would damage America’s credibility,” and undermine President Trump’s “ability to enlist allies against Iran’s expansion across the Middle East.”

    We fully appreciate the injustices, abuse and denial of basic political rights the Kurds have endured for more than a century. The Kurds have also been reliable allies to U.S. troops in the region in many ways. In the abstract, the Kurds deserve independence and self-determination, and we hope they achieve something that satisfies them in the end.

    But U.S. foreign policy can’t be constructed in the abstract. It must take account of the world as it is, and acknowledge the critical role that power still plays in global politics. In that context, the question of whether the United States should, as a matter of policy, support Kurdish independence is devilishly complicated.

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