Via Meadia has zeroed in during the past month or so on the Kurdish portfolio. In three posts, Walter has pointed to the key role of some 30 million Kurds in the mix of antipathy—or better, multi-balanced opposition—among the Syrian government and its rebel opponents, the Iranian government, the Iraqi government, and the Turkish government. Those who understand how complicated matters are within Syria, and its adjunct sufferer Lebanon, should be warned that matters Kurdish are more complicated still. [...]
If the current Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) obtained independence, it would to one degree or another become an irredentist magnet for Kurds in Syria, above all, but also in Iran and ultimately in Turkey. There is plenty of unfinished business at hand, too, with a potential to generate vast amounts of violence. For example, the current borders of the KRG are far too circumscribed as far as Kurds are concerned because they do not include Kirkuk and Mosul (ancient Nineveh). For another example, Syrian Kurds are incensed still, decades after the fact, at the appropriation of fairly huge chunks of their ancestral lands by the Syrian government and the forced influx of Arabs upon them. They want their land back, and they are finally in a position to imagine actually taking it. Not entirely dissimilar circumstances exist in both Iran and Turkey. In other words, KRG independence could well be just the beginning of a very messy and protracted process, not the end of one. And if the United States plays midwife to Kurdish independence, it will very likely get stuck with a shitload of dirty diapers to manage for years to come.
Could such a mess possibly be in U.S. interests? Well, there are some imaginable benefits from it. It could certainly screw with the mullahs, and that’s good. It could actually increase U.S. leverage over Turkey under some circumstances. But only a fool looks forward blithely to an unpredictable upheaval of this magnitude. As they would say in the State Department, where I hung my bowler hat for a few years, the matter requires some study.
The broader point is that we seem to be on the verge of a real game-changing phenomenon in the region. Just as the Berber/Tuareg rising has changed the shape of North Africa and the Sahel (and that’s just at its early stage, most likely), the Kurdish rising may change the shape of Southwest Asia, reverberating via Syria across the Levant. The Arabs have a saying: “Everything starts small except calamity.” We may be about to experience an illustration of that maxim.