Could Donald Trump’s Return Change the Fate of Rojava?
By Ettore Maggi
Despite the risk of indictment, Donald Trump still seems to be enjoying considerable popularity in the United States. A survey conducted in 2021 revealed that 74% of American Republicans wanted Trump to run for president again in 2024. The news was significant then, and it is even more so now that the former president was found to have higher favorability ratings than Ron De Santis in a recent poll on the next Republican primary. Considering Trump’s historical relations with the Kurds and his near total dismissal of their contribution to the global fight against terrorism, a re-election of Trump would arouse the Kurd’s doubts about the United States commitment to northern and eastern Syria.
Normally in the U.S., a defeated candidate does not run in the next election. But Trump has never accepted the result of the 2020 election and has already shown that he does not want to abide by the rules. Moreover, in the US 50 million votes can be enough to elect a president in a population of over 339 million.
In some cases, a candidate can win the election despite receiving fewer total votes than their opponent, due to the complexity of the electoral system. Trump, back in 2016 was elected by taking almost three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, while Al Gore lost despite having more votes than George Bush Jr.
Of course, many might be surprised that Trump continues to have so many fans after the tragic events on Capitol Hill where five people lost their lives. But given that pragmatism, nerve, and the display of contradiction are Trump’s trademarks (which include his aggressiveness and lack of decorum), it is not as impossible for him to return to the White House as some may think.
Trump is also a lot more politically savvy than many experts credit him with. While Trump did not create sovereignism and the alt-right, nor conspiracy and a sense of bewilderment, he exploited them to perfection.
The domestic repercussions of his return are being analyzed. But what would be the repercussions at the external level and especially what consequences for Kurdistan, particularly Rojava?
First, Trump has always been close to Russia’s Putin. So while Washington’s policy toward Russia is unlikely to be overturned, it is equally true that dialogue between the White House and Kremlin would be different from the current administration.
More importantly, the New York billionaire has always had a very good relationship with Erdoğan.
Turkey’s Sultan just won re-election back in May this year. In recent years, he has amended the constitution followed up the 2016 coup attempt with a frightening crackdown and has had many political opponents and journalists arrested (Turkey was named in 2020 by the IFJ as the world’s largest jailer of journalists).
Erdoğan in recent years has tried to destroy the opposition, but has not succeeded completely. He used veto power to block Finland and Sweden from joining NATO, and to blackmail the Scandinavian countries. He wanted the handover of Kurdish political refugees, a stop to the arms embargo on Turkey, and an end to aid to Rojava (especially from Sweden).
Erdoğan remains in power and if Trump wins the next election, the situation for the Federation of Northern Syria, and the extraordinary experience of Democratic Confederalism would be in serious trouble.
The two major attacks by the Turkish military on Rojava occurred during the Trump Presidency. The first was probably agreed upon with Russia, which had troops present in the Afrin canton in 2018, Operation Olive Branch, allowing the Turks and their allied jihadists to occupy Afrin, carrying out many atrocities, as also witnessed by The New York Times.
In 2019, Trump ordered the partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Rojava. The announcement alone had led to the resignation of Defense Secretary General Mattis. However, Erdoğan immediately launched Operation Peace Spring, which resulted in the conquest by Turkish and jihadist forces of several SDF-controlled territories. There were also serious allegations as to the use of chemical weapons used by the Turkish forces against the Kurdish civilians and forces.
General of USMC James Mattis (aka The Monk, Chaos, or Mad Dog in Trump’s opinion) has always had a good relationship with Kurdish fighters, and has stated that attacks by Turkey against Rojava would benefit ISIS.
After the capture of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital, Mattis said the U.S. would continue to provide weapons to the YPG. Despite the fact that the YPG (SDF) is universally credited with defeating ISIS, at a terrible human and material toll (12,000 SDF dead, thousands of civilians murdered or displaced, cities destroyed) Erdoğan’s position, with his double-dealing between the U.S. and Russia, was (and still is) strong.
After the withdrawal, Trump said that “We are not a police force.” With his usual nerve, Trump said that “the Kurds were not angels”, or that “the Kurds had not helped the Americans in Normandy,” and other similar statements that underlined how out of touch with history and reality the American president was.
Yet support for the Kurdish cause is widespread in the USA, and around the world. One of the features of the fight against ISIS has been the involvement of large numbers of international volunteers, reminiscent of the Spanish Civil War (1936) and the Winter War (when Finland was attacked by the USSR, 1939).
Volunteers from USA, Australia, Canada, EU fought and many lost thier lives in the fight against ISIS. According to the book by Italian war reporter Claudio Locatelli (former YPG volunteer), Nessuna Resa (2018), there were hundreds of international volunteers. Locatelli predicted Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring in an October 2019 interview.
Likewise, many US Army and Navy veterans joined the KRG Peshmerga and YPG.
Also, a well known activist like David Grodt, who was later killed in action, and even a British-American Hollywood actor, Micheal Enright, who stared in a number of films and shows including The Pirates of the Caribbean, Agents of Shield, Law & Order, left acting to enlist with the YPG.
The popularity of the Kurdish struggle for freedom and the fight against ISIS continues to generate international support and attention. But one thing is clear, the return of Mr. Trump, particularly given Erdoğan’s re-election, would not be good news for the Kurds.