Thistlethwaite: The betrayal of the Kurds
Who would dare to be an ally of the United States any more, when the betrayal of allies has become the hallmark of this Trump administration?
President Trump has betrayed the Kurds in the most cynical way, giving a “green-light” to Turkey’s invasion of Northern Syria and thus betraying the Kurds who have been our allies in fighting ISIS.
This alliance was not just a matter of the U.S. giving the Kurds some small arms, notes Bilal Wahab of the Washington Institute. “For five years, American soldiers and Kurdish soldiers fought side by side, bled side by side in Syria, defeating a common enemy together. Friendships and camaraderie is built between those fighters and U.S. military personnel.”
And what did the Kurds want in return? They wanted the protection of the American flag. “And Mr. Trump’s decision was to remove that American flag and failing at protecting the Kurdish friends and deterring the Turkish invading army.”
Republicans and Democrats alike have condemned this act. “Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump administration. This move ensures the re-emergence of ISIS,” tweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham as Turkey launched its operation last Wednesday. Apparently he and others in Congress are not buying the idea, that is, the spin, that this is just a move to draw down troops from the Middle East.
Sen. Graham is right. We have abandoned our Kurdish allies who fought bravely side-by-side with American troops. It’s terrible for the Kurds, and a terrible message about the undependability of the U.S.
The world has just become an even more dangerous place for the citizens of the United States, as increasingly our most traditionally staunch allies regard us with distrust.
For example, last year a Pew Survey showed trust in Trump worldwide is very low, especially among key allies.
Why did Trump do this? It is an abrupt reversal of years of U.S. policy. Israel, a key ally in the region, is said to be particularly shaken by this sudden move, about which they apparently had no notice. Headlines from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz tell the tale: “Trump’s Kurdish Treachery” and “Trump Roundly Slammed.”
The Middle East is a delicate web of international alliances and histories. The one thing this region hates is sudden moves without consulting allies. As The Washington Post reported: “The abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria and subsequent Turkish attacks on Kurdish fighters have badly rattled Israel’s national security experts, who decried President Trump’s action as a betrayal of loyal allies and evidence that Israel’s most vital supporter is a fickle friend at best.”
But maybe, as in many Trump actions, it has nothing very much to do with the interests of allies in the Middle East such as Israel, or even the best security interests of the people of the United States, and a lot to do with the interests of Donald Trump.
In 2015, Trump gave a radio interview in which he said, “I have a little conflict of interest ’cause I have a major, major building in Istanbul … It’s a tremendously successful job. It’s called Trump Towers — two towers, instead of one, not the usual one, it’s two.”
As it turns out, it’s more than a little conflict of interest. Trump doesn’t own these towers, he leases his name. And it’s been very lucrative, per reporting from Mother Jones: “According to personal financial disclosures filed by Trump, since he launched his bid for the presidency, he has earned somewhere between $3.2 million and $17 million in royalties from the deal. (The amounts are given in ranges; the precise figures are unclear.)”
So Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his current supporter, Aydin Dogan, the wealthy owner of these glass towers with Trump’s name on them, have quite a hold on Donald Trump. Erdogan has actually threatened to remove Trump’s name from the towers in the past when he has done something Erdogan doesn’t like.
Maybe this betrayal of the Kurds is just as simple and terrible as keeping Trump’s name on two towers in Istanbul, and the security interests of the world be damned. Literally.
The world’s religions reserve a special scorn for those who betray their friends, especially for financial gain. In the Christian scriptures, Judas is said to have agreed to betray Jesus for “thirty pieces of silver.” (Matthew 26: 14-16)
In the climactic scene from the movie “A Man for All Seasons,” Sir Thomas More is betrayed by Richard Rich, who has been bribed to do it by being made attorney general of Wales. More tries one last time to get his former friend to repent, and he quotes Jesus of Nazareth on what it does to a person to betray another for money. “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world (Matthew 16:26). But for Wales?”
Betrayal of a friend for a real estate deal, even one as big as the whole world, profits you nothing, Jesus argues. Thus, we might paraphrase Jesus words as follows:
“Why Donald, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for your name on two glass towers?”
That is truly shameful.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is President and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.