Save Kurdistan


Tom Friedman cautions against a semi-occupation of Iraq. He may well be right. The details of redeployment are what we now need to focus on. How we do it is in many ways more important than the fact of our failure in Arab Iraq. But it seems to me that there's one policy around which we should all be able to unite: a commitment to protect the nascent Kurdish entity in the north. The Kurds had their civil war in the last century. They have a fledgling democracy. They love the US. They are Sunni Muslims. Hemmed in by Persians, Arabs and Turks, they need an external broker to defend and secure their achievement. One obvious option for US troops is to redeploy to Iraq's territorial borders to deter an influx of foreign agents, but primarily to defend and police Kurdistan. In this, we need to hold Turkey's hand very tightly and patiently. They too are a critical ally, deeply suspicious of Kurdish aspirations and critical to restraining the centrifugal frces of Iraq. The Turkish-Kurdish border needs NATO troops to keep it stable and prevent incursions from either side. If we are going to cut our losses among Iraq's Arabs, and I see no alternative, then that is no reason to abandon the one clear success story of this entire gamble.

If we rescue Kurdistan, moreover, it does retrieve a sliver of the original hope.

They will be free of Saddam; they will be a Muslim democracy deeply grateful to the United States; they will be a Sunni society that is not hostile to the West; their economy could boom; their freedoms could flourish further. The Turks and the Kurds can become an arc of hope for some Persians who want to live in a free society and lack an obvious regional role model. I fear, alas, that Arab culture is simply immune to modern democratic norms - at least for the foreseeable future. That doesn't mean we shouldn't discourage democrats or liberals; but that we should have no illusions about their viability in Arab society. Mercifully, the Middle East is not all Arab dysfunction. The Turks, the Jews, the Kurds and the Persians offer much hope. It seems to me we should be investing in those places that have a chance, rather than further antagonizing those regions that have yet to develop any politics but violence, paranoia and graft.

(Photo: children in Mosul, by Mauricio Lima/AFP/Getty.)