Holly Richardson: A humanitarian crisis from two schoolyard bullies

A Kurdish girl looks on as she holds a picture during a protest in the northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece, on Thursday. Oct. 17, 2019. Kurdish people who live in Greece are protesting against Turkey's military action and urged for the withdrawal of Turkish forces.(AP Photo/ Giannis Papanikos)

“With friends like that, who needs enemies?”

The news about over the last couple of weeks has been absolutely gut-wrenching. Gut-wrenching.

I’ve been to Turkey, working with Syrian and Kurdish refugees near the border. Now, with Trump abandoning our Kurdish allies — with zero warning (except maybe to Turkish president Erdogan) and apparently zero input from our military — the world’s refugee crisis just got worse in a hurry.

Guess where those refugees are going? Iraq. Turkey isn’t safe, getting to Greece can be deadly, but Iraq, well, Iraq will take the estimated 50,000 expected to cross the border in the next few months.

Wanna know what radicalizes people in the Middle East? Betrayal by a country that was supposed to have their backs. That anger and hatred will run deep. Over 11,000 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, composed of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrian and Syrian militias died for us. Died to help protect U.S. interests. Died to defeat ISIS. That knife in their back? Well, that one has the Stars and Stripes on it.

Even if there is a case that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place, the reality is, we were there. There could have been — indeed, should have been — those discussions and there definitely should have been discussions about what it would look like to withdraw our troops. With, at a minimum, input from legislators, and military brass with direct knowledge on the realities on the ground.

There have been a continuing string of even-more-outrageous-than-usual statements, Trump said that Turkey needed to “clean out” part of Syria. (Wait. Is that a green light for genocide?) Then, he said he needed to let Kurds and Turkey fight it out. “Sometimes you have to let them fight like two kids.” He also said the Kurds were “very grateful.” Somehow I doubt the 300,000 displaced Kurds would describe it in quite that way.

Thursday, Turkey’s president demanded the U.S. move the Kurds out of “his” safe zone, or attacks would resume “in a more determined way.” But wait. Attacks already have resumed. Within 13 hours of the supposed cease-fire, Turkey shelled the border town of Ras al-Ayn. European Union President Donald Tusk has said the deal was not a “cease-fire” but a demand for the Kurds to capitulate.

With American troops yanked out, Turkish and Russian troops poured in and the balance of power has shifted. Sen. Mitt Romney rightly pointed out on the Senate floor that “what we have done to the Kurds will stand as a bloodstain in the annals of American history.”

He also wondered out loud if Trump had been rolled by Erdogan. If Erdogan let Trump know he would be invading “no matter what,” did Trump withdraw troops as a way to save face?

“It’s been … suggested that Turkey may have called America’s bluff, telling the president they are coming no matter what we did,” said Romney. “If that’s so, we should know it. For it would tell us a great deal about how we should deal with Turkey, now and in the future.”

Romney continued: “Are we so weak and inept diplomatically that Turkey forced the hand of the United States of America? Turkey!?”

But, Defense Secretary Mark Esper seemed to confirm that on Fox News Sunday, saying: “The first thing that we understood — I’ve understood from my counterpart, Secretary Pompeo … and certainly from President Erdogan, is they were fully committed to doing this, regardless of what we did.”


There’s a high human cost to this schoolyard shoving match between two bullies. I wish Romney well in getting to the truth behind this humanitarian disaster. But I won’t hold my breath.

| Courtesy Holly Richardson, op-ed mug.

Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.