Fort Report: Syria

Oct 11, 2019

Middle Eastern dynamics seem far removed from a brisk fall in Nebraska.  It’s hard to get animated by the region’s interminable struggles when the harvest season is upon us and water levels remain a concern.  We eventually just get weary.  We also sense that we can’t keep fighting other peoples’ wars––at great cost in blood and treasure––with many challenges here at home.  But, as this week further verifies, we must proceed with great caution in exiting this messy neighborhood in order to prevent the horror of ISIS 2.0, Turkish over-aggression, and a destabilization that endangers religious minorities.

In a region ridden with centuries-old tribal, ethnic, and religious strife, Syria is particularly complex.  We have kept a small military footprint there ever since ISIS’ shocking territorial advance across Syria and neighboring Iraq.  From its governing caliphate, ISIS was able to plan, inspire, and carry out attacks against innocent people around the world.

The U.S. presence along the Turkey-Syria border served as a buffer against ISIS and a deterrent against Turkey’s worst inclination—an attack on neighboring Kurds, an ethnic minority trained and equipped by U.S. special forces to fight ISIS in Syria.  While courageously serving as a dependable ally in our counter-terrorism efforts, the Kurds also help hold approximately 12,000 ISIS fighters and 58,000 ISIS family members in prisons and camps.  The hard reality is this: We aligned with the Kurds to defeat ISIS, not our uncertain NATO ally Turkey, with whom the Kurdish people have waged a centuries-long war.  A disintegration of Kurdish operations in Northern Syria creates the potential for the regeneration of ISIS and vulnerability to charges that the U.S. doesn’t keep its commitments. 

All of this violence and heartache affects some of us particularly hard.  Lincoln is home to the largest Yazidi community in America.  Many of Lincoln’s over 3,000 Yazidis served as translators for American military personnel during the Iraq War.  The Yazidis of Lincoln are model Americans––strong in family, deeply connected to the community, and tethered to their rich cultural and religious traditions.  The complexities in Syria have multiple levels of implication for U.S.-Turkish relations and extend the sad reality of besieged religious minorities still reeling from the ISIS genocide in the region. 

After my review of Northern Iraq last summer at the request of Vice President Pence, I crafted the Security Resolution for Northern Iraq to create the conditions for over 400,000 Yazidis still trapped in de facto refugee camps to return to their ancestral homelands in Iraq’s Nineveh and Sinjar.  The small but resilient Christian community stands ready to return as well.  As far as I am aware, it is the only legislative attempt offered that thinks differently about the fundamental problem of security, with minimal risk to American troops, in order to create a reasonable chance of stability.  

I am pleased that this strategy has been implemented into the House Defense Authorization bill.  Dozens of Members of Congress––Republicans and Democrats—have signed on to the strategy that the resolution envisions: integrating Christian, Yazidi, and Islamic minorities into the established security forces of the Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga, facilitated by an international training mission.  The goal is to allow these ancient communities the chance to protect themselves within the regularized national military structure.  

The Iraqi army, backed by America and other international partners, did a tremendous job––at great cost––of clearing ISIS.  An ancillary evolution of military structure could help create the security conditions necessary for the reconstituting of Iraqi society before another shock wave potentially hits.

In this time of intense political division inside Congress, a diverse set of representatives understand that this modest commitment to re-securitization is necessary to restore the once-rich tapestry of ethnic and religious diversity that existed in the region and that is so essential to long-term peace and stability in the Middle East.