In Syria, adding insult to injury: Trump's betrayal of the Kurds is the latest indignity for a suffering country
Back in 2011, the embers of the Syrian war sparked in the southwestern town of Daraa in a siege by the Assad regime's Syrian Army that resulted in the deaths of up to 240 civilians, many of them children.
Eight years later, you're forgiven if you've forgotten why that war began, or why so many have died since -- upwards of half a million people, 50,000 of them children by conservative estimates. It wasn't, like so many Middle Eastern conflicts are, over land or religion per se. There was no invasion, no terrorist threat, no coup.
There was, quite simply, a demonstration -- a demonstration over children.
In March 2011, hundreds of civilians took to the streets of Daraa to protest the kidnapping, torture and incarceration of 15 young students by the Assad regime. They'd been sought in connection with anti-government graffiti calling for the ouster of Bashar al-Assad. A 13-year-old boy, Hamza al-Khateeb was tortured and killed.
As the protests over the captive children escalated, Assad cracked down ferociously, labeling the protesters terrorists. Regime forces fired openly at them, dragged families out of their homes and arrested them, many never to be seen again. Snipers sat atop mosques where protesters gathered, looking for clear shots to the head. Assad shut off water, power and phone lines, which alone resulted in the deaths of hundreds. Journalists and aid groups were barred from entry. After the siege of Daraa, similar affronts occurred in Baniyas, Homs, Talkalakh, Latakia and other cities. By May -- just two months after the initial protests in Daraa -- the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria reported 1,062 had been killed.
Since then, Assad has waged war on his own people, largely unfettered. He's used chemical weapons to gas children, he's bombed hospitals and schools, he's driven millions from their homeland.
The U.S. mission in Syria has varied over the years, from arming insurgents to intelligence gathering, limited air strikes and fighting off ISIS.
While our goals in Syria were never clearly enumerated by then-President Obama or President Trump, throughout the war one of our most committed and effective allies in the fight has been the Kurds.
Denied their own state in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran after World War I, the Kurds have suffered multiple attempted genocides and ethnic cleansing; they are often called the largest ethnic group without a state. In recent years, hostilities have erupted in Turkey, driving them out to the Syrian border.
In taking up the fight against ISIS as a strategic U.S.-backed partner, the Kurds had their own ambitions to be sure -- they were hoping the territory they helped secure would become an autonomous Kurdish region of their own.