Kurds And Curds

What would it be like to be a Kurd today? A fighter, fearsome and victorious. A modern-day warrior whose proud DNA hails from a 10th century Iranian ethnic group. After the Mongol period, Kurdish dynasties ruled vast lands and many Kurdish quarters flourished in Iraq, Egypt and Jerusalem. Dynasties and empires do not last forever. The displacement of the Kurds saw mass destruction and massacres during the reign of the Safavid Shah, Tamasp 1 (ruled 1524-1576). Many Kurds were scattered into faraway places including central Persia. These refugees became the nucleus of modern Kurdish enclaves. Less than a century before this crackdown that created the diaspora, the Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. The Ottoman Empire was at its zenith when the Kurds were being displaced from their homelands. Throughout the history of the Empire, there were Kurdish uprisings but the Kurds were never able to win any real independent state for themselves. In WW1, the Ottomans sided with the Germans. Their defeat meant the Turks’ Middle Eastern territories were carved up and divided between the British and the French. After the Turks won independence from the Allied Forces, they formed the Republic of Turkey. Woodrow Wilson guaranteed the Kurds the British would secure Kurdish independence in the Treaty of Sevres, a promise they subsequently broke. Despite the betrayal, in WW2, the Kurds helped the Allies defeat the pro-Nazi Iraqi coup. Mr. Trump was wrong when he tried to justify his decision to allow Turkey to attack the Kurds by saying “they didn’t help us in the Second World War.” Furthermore, in 1971-74, the Kurdish Peshmerga fought as US allies against Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Mr Trump defending the indefensible

Fast forward to the present. The official White House statement disputed what many have said, that POTUS gave Turkey’s president, Mr. Erdogan, the green light to attack the Kurds in Syria. “We gave them a very clear red light. I’ve been involved in those red lights and I know the President did that on Sunday.” the official said. He did not identify who “we” were. Maybe Mr. Trump was not a party to “we”. It is difficult to believe that Ankara would be belligerent and brave enough to so quickly disregard and disobey Mr. Trump, had he given them a very clear red light. The alternative truth appears to be more swallowable. The two men had a telephone conversation, immediately after which the Americans pulled out of northern Syria. The day after US troops left, Turkish jets and artillery bombarded Syria’s Ras al Ain, and their howitzers shelled the Kurds in Tel Abyad. Turkey’s Defence Ministry announced they had killed 227 militants and lost one soldier in the three days. “Soldier” sounds heroic, the good guy. “Militants” are always the baddies. The power of words. But the Kurds are not the baddies in this arena. They have been America’s staunchest ally in the fight against Daesh in Syria. ISIS had in our recent history carved up huge areas of Iraq and Syria, and formed an islamic Caliphate. Atrocities were so vile and abhorrent that they shocked the whole world. ISIS started life in 1999 as a small band of fighters led by the Jordanian, al-Zarqawi. After Saddam Hussein was killed during the US invasion of Iraq, his military was disbanded by the US-led coalition. The members of his Ba’ath party turned rogue and joined ISIS. It would not be inaccurate to conclude that the growth of ISIS was hastened from the false American claim about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

Kurdish fighters are the backbone of the US backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Formed in October 2015 when ISIS looked victorious, it was the SDF that achieved key victories in major ISIS strongholds. In under four years, ISIS was a spent force, losing all their territorial conquests. The world owes a lot to these Kurdish fighters, without them, would the collapse of the Caliphate have been so swift? Instead of thanking them and remembering their sacrifices, what have the Americans done to show their admiration and appreciation for these Kurdish fighters? They betrayed them. “Stabbed in the back” is what some Kurds said. Abandoned. Some condemn the “green light” as one of the worst foreign policy blunders of the Trump administration. Merely a blunder? The wrath and denunciation should be louder than thunder. This is not a simple mistake. Let me spell it out. To me, the Americans are guilty of aiding and abetting in the murder of the Kurds. Mr. Trump calls up Mr Erdogan late on a Sunday night and informs him he will be moving his troops away from the Kurds. Furthermore, he tells Mr. Erdogan that if Turkey attacks them, the US troops will not interfere. Mr. Trump then publicly announces the arrangement to the world. Less than three days later, the Turkish forces moved into the area vacated by the American troops and started bombing the Kurds. That to me is much more evil than simply abandoning their ally. The White House had also falsely claimed that the United States was solely bearing the burden of imprisoning the ISIS fighters in camps and Mr. Trump threatened to unleash them to Europe. The truth is they are being held by the SDF. The “blunder” by Mr. Trump could be catastrophic should these prisoners-of-war escape whilst their captors are distracted by the Turkish attacks. Just a year ago, on 26th September 2018, Mr. Trump acknowledged the Kurds as great allies of America. “They fought with us. They died with us. Tens of thousands of Kurds died fighting ISIS. We don’t forget. I don’t forget.” Has Mr. Trump forgotten? Or, does he simply not care? There is no fabric of decency or morality about the man. Americans should cower with shame; they have blood on their hands. The man they elected President has destroyed all the greatness and glory their country accumulated through sweat, blood and tears of their ancestors. This betrayal brings into sharp focus what it means to be their ally. Their word is hollow and meaningless. Without trust, there can be no healthy relationship. It is disappointing to watch the Australian PM stand firm and defend Mr. Trump’s murderous betrayal. Can anyone be so blind to the treachery, the abhorrence, the betrayal, the perfidy? It was a big relief to find no other Western leader with such an impairment.

A further disappointment was to hit the airwaves. Although many leaders of the free world were scathing of the Turkey-US arrangement, it was unexpected to hear Mr. Trump trumpeting about the “love-fest” his trade negotiators enjoyed with China. It feels unjust and wrong that the treacherous one gets immediate gratification for his vile and callous decision which will not only see the massacre of Kurdish fighters and innocent Kurds, but also the potential re-emergence of ISIS and further despair for those in that part of the world. Although unwritten and unsigned, Mr. Trump boasted that the agreement with China will deliver some USD 50 billion worth of agricultural exports to the “Great Patriot Farmers” of America. That is a lot of soy beans for the Chinese to make their bean curd. This is not surprising, I suppose, since they love their tofu.

A Cultural Misunderstanding: Liu Xin vs Trish Regan

According to critic and author Nathan Rich, without a cultural understanding of the American people, the Chinese would have missed the subtle nuances at play during the “debate” yesterday. Liu Xin spoke very well, her diction was clear, without any distracting accent and with good vocabulary. This was a great opportunity accorded to a Chinese citizen to inform the west from their perspective why there is a Sino-American trade war and what have been the barriers to end it. To successfully communicate a message, one needs great language skills which Liu Xin has but one also needs to bridge any cultural gap and overcome bias. To achieve that on a 20 minute tv show hosted by someone you’ve claimed to have fire in her eyes against the Chinese, well, that would be a stiff challenge. So, did she bridge the cultural gap and did she nullify Regan’s insinuations and attacks? For instance, Trish Regan opened the show by telling her viewers that “in the interest of transparency” she only speaks for herself and then introduced Xin with “my guest however, is part of the CCP (therefore she speaks for the Chinese Communist Party)….. did the Chinese viewers (or even Liu Xin for that matter) realise that Regan had already fired the first shot at her guest? Did they know that the American viewers would from her intro, have been informed that here is a communist in their midst airing propaganda and lies? Instead, Xin’s immediate response was a humble, respectful Chinese-style reply emphasising how unprecedented this was, a dream being invited to this show. That’s fantastic for a Chinese audience, being polite and appreciative but to a westerner, especially one from a Fox Network audience, she has simply admitted she is undeserving and was surprised to be invited. She then emphasised (and that’s when Regan began rambling on about something) that she is not a member of the CCP and she too is only speaking for herself. But, how many westerners know that being a citizen of communist China does not make her a member of the CCP? Undoubtedly, a proportion of the viewers would by then have dismissed her as a liar.

When asked for her assessment of the trade talks between the US and China, Xin lamely said “I don’t know, I don’t have any insider information”. A certain proportion of the audience, already with the opinion that she is a liar for the CCP, will think the opposite, that she does have insider information. So, that kind of reply isn’t helpful and certainly doesn’t bridge any cultural misunderstandings. Regan promptly suggested that trade wars are no good for anyone, but she forgot to say that President Trump started it and Xin didn’t remind her . Maybe some of her viewers will blame China for that.

Regan stated that China had stolen billions of dollars worth of IP. “It is not right to simply take what’s not yours.” She then asked a silly question. How do American businesses operate in China if they risk their Intellectual Property rights stolen? This is of course a question loaded with poison, aimed at her parochial American audience. Many of them wouldn’t know that there are many American businesses such as Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, Apple stores lining the streets in China and lining their pockets with huge profits. Liu Xin agreed that there is clear consensus that some Chinese firms are guilty of IP thefts, but there are also many from every part of the world including the US guilty of the same. Making blanket statements about China being guilty of IP thefts isn’t helpful, she added. That unfortunately was easily washed away with a simple reply from Regan, “but it is not just a statement, it is multiple reports including evidence from the WTO.” You “should pay for the acquisition of these IP rights”. Unfortunately for Xin, she was not given a right of reply. Anyway, she should have stopped Regan right there and inform their audience that Regan’s assertion that China does not pay for using IP rights is false. China paid US$27.4 billion to foreign entities last year.

When asked when China would abandon their status as a developing nation and stop borrowing from the world bank, Liu Xin thanked her host for that reminder after replying that China does contribute to UN peace keeping and humanitarian efforts, and really wants to “grow up”. China may be ranked second in the world in terms of GDP, but is quite behind the US in terms of per capita GDP. Rather than emphasising to the viewers that the average Chinese income is about a sixth of that of an American and justifying why that still puts China in a developing nation category, she is thanking Regan for attacking China for using that status to gain unfair advantages from the WTO. WTF, that’s a cultural mismatch for sure.

Regan then talked about making changes to the tariffs, and Liu Xin basically said yes but changing the rules for how countries trade has to be done with mutual consensus and requires multi lateral decisions. Treaties cannot be unfairly agreed by force or won by war, not in the 21st century, hopefully. Regan then brought up the issue of forced technological transfer and informed us that America is now addressing this problem. Why was that brought up? To inform her audience America is right to use tariffs to fight the trade war against China? As if to justify that, Regan abruptly switched from the issue of forced technological transfer and questioned her guest about her opinion of China’s State capitalism instead. Liu Xin did not get the opportunity to tell the audience that the American companies weren’t forced with guns to their heads to part with their IPs. They were all hard won negotiations, those American firms would have had approvals from their board of directors to do that, with high expectations of raking in huge profits from doing business in China. Instead, Liu Xin duly skipped all that and went on to define China’s state economy as socialism with Chinese characteristics. This of course wouldn’t help break down cultural barriers with the American audience. “We want it to be a market economy but ….” But?! State owned enterprises playing an important but increasingly smaller role, maybe, in the economy. Maybe?! She actually explained it well, but the use of those two words “but” and “maybe” unfortunately diminished her otherwise convincing statement about the benefits of a well run state economy that efficiently channels investments to key sectors that are vital to the state. This is no different from most economies in the West where government budgetary policies incentivise certain sectors of the economy e.g. industries in renewal energy receiving government subsidies and tax breaks.

In the red corner, Trish “The Trash” Regan
In the Blue Corner, Liu Xin “ The Destroyer of Fake News”

Regan then advised Liu Xin that China needs to keep being open, quite strange isn’t it? Advising someone to advise China how to do better economically! How weird and condescending, considering that China has outperformed every country economically for the past three decades.

Regan used facial expressions, tone of voice, inappropriate cackles, and chose words with loaded messages that her local viewers would understand. As host, she controlled the ebb and flow of the interview, and with a prepared list of issues to focus on.

Liu Xin said in a later interview with a colleague that she was communicating from the bottom of her heart, with a genuine attempt to bridge the misunderstandings between the two peoples. Did she achieve that? Certainly she came across as genuine, intelligent, warm and friendly but from a western perspective, did urghhlings in the West gain a better insight into the real issues of the trade war? I wonder if many of the American viewers changed their stance after this interview.

Regan ended the interview by saying “no one wants a trade war”. Easy to fix that, right? Just call one urghhling to end it. After all, he started it! Regan of course was speaking to her audience, seemingly implying that it is China that has to end it, by kowtowing to the US.