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COMMENTARY: Canada is complicit in the shameful betrayal of the Kurds

(Oct. 8) Despite a warning from President Trump, Turkey appears to have launched a military strike against Kurds in northern Syria.

The stories and images that are starting to emerge from Kurdish areas of northern Syria are heartbreaking. The fact that this situation is unfolding in the first place is infuriating.

After all the sacrifices that Kurdish forces have made in taking the fight to ISIS and bringing about the end of the so-called caliphate, for the American president to throw them under the bus and subject them to this Turkish onslaught is beyond shameful.is

Just a year ago, in fact, Donald Trump was praising the Kurds for their sacrifices and for being such stalwart allies, and vowing that the U.S. would not forget.

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The president forgot to not forget, it seems. Not only are the Kurds now paying the price, but ultimately the Americans could, too. By alienating a key ally in the Middle East, fostering chaos in the region, and potentially even allowing ISIS to rise from the ashes, there could be serious harm done to long-term U.S. security interests.

Trump even managed to blindside and anger many in his own party; a strange thing to do at a time when the president will need every possible ally in Congress and he faces possible impeachment.

But as much as we can and should call out and condemn Trump for his craven abandonment of the Kurds, we should also look at why Canada hasn’t been doing more. Our record is not one to be proud of, unfortunately.

READ MORE: Turkish forces capture key Syrian border town

On the campaign trail, the various federal political leaders have had little to say about the situation. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer condemned Turkey‘s attacks and described the Kurds as Canada’s allies. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the situation “troubling.” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said NATO should review Turkey’s membership in the alliance because of the invasion. But overall, their remarks have been limited. An issue like this might upend the political script they’re all carefully trying to stick to, but this is the sort of matter a would-be prime minister should have to address.

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As for Canada’s official response, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland did tweet out a condemnation of Turkey’s military incursion into Syria, but her statement said nothing at all about our Kurdish allies:

 

That tepid response is pretty much in keeping with the Liberals’ tepid support for the Kurds and their efforts to defeat ISIS.

One of the first things the Liberals did upon taking office in 2015 was to withdraw our fighter jets, which had been providing a support role in the offensive against ISIS — much to the chagrin of our Kurdish allies.

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Why Turkey is attacking Kurd forces in Syria
Why Turkey is attacking Kurd forces in Syria

The Trudeau government did promise to supply weapons to the Kurds, but we never followed through on that. We’ve also ignored repeated pleas from the Kurds to deal with our foreign nationals, whom they’ve been holding along with other ISIS prisoners.

Moreover, when Kurds voted for independence in 2017, Canada ignored the result — after previously urging them to cancel the vote.

At this point, the Kurds already have reason to question Canada’s commitment and the American betrayal may make them reluctant to trust anyone else any time soon. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore this issue and hope for the best.

READ MORE: ‘It’s craziness here’: Kurdish forces struggle to contain world’s unwanted ISIS prisoners in Syria

We need to be much more forceful in condemning the Turkish offensive and in pushing other NATO allies to take a harder line — perhaps even to consider sanctions — on Turkey. This may also be one of those rare instances where we need to call out our closest ally.

But if we’re going to try and drive the point home to the U.S. administration that abandoning the Kurds is a moral and strategic mistake, then we’d better be prepared to demonstrate our own commitment to that principle.

Hopefully, once the election is over, our new government will be prepared to take a meaningful stance on this situation. Unfortunately, things are growing worse each day. Waiting until Oct. 21 is a luxury our Kurdish allies don’t have.

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Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.