Column: Kurds were invaluable to US in our time of need
Washington, October 9, 2019/UploadedPhotos/HighResolution/8c472abd-04fe-4b3b-9c77-d2805adbd7df.jpg
Originally published in the Columbus Dispatch.
There are no greater lovers of peace than those who served in war. Their service is a summons that they do not seek, yet it is a call and a responsibility that they do not shirk.
I know this love firsthand, from my tour of duty as a combat surgeon in Iraq from 2005 to 2006 and my 21 years of serving in the United States military. It is true not only for the men and women wearing the flag of the United States of America, but also for our allies who stand shoulder to shoulder with our men and women in uniform.
During my tour in Iraq, it was a highly dangerous theater of combat. We wore body armor every day for the entire year. As a doctor, one of my assignments was to evaluate the hospitals in the Kurdish region. My time with the Kurds was the one time I could walk through the streets without armor, in uniform. As I walked down the street, people of all ages, including children, came up to me to hug and thank me. I kept thinking to myself, “Am I really still in Iraq?” Yes, I was in Iraq and I was safe because I was with friends, the Kurds.
The Kurds welcomed me with open arms because they love America. They deeply appreciate that we, the United States, had ensured their safety from Saddam Hussein, and they have paid us back in dividends by fighting with us and helping defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The Kurds have continued to be a strong ally during our times of need. But it is now their time of greatest need. Turkey, supposedly another United States ally, has threatened to slaughter them. With our decision to withdraw our troops from northern Syria on Sunday evening, we have abandoned our friends and left them alone against Turkish attack, after promising to have their back. Sen. Rand Paul and those who share his worldview have called those of us who wish to stand by our Kurdish allies the “war caucus.” As a matter of fact, those who have served in war understand how to deter aggression, keep peace and the value of that peace.
For over a decade, the Kurds have joined us in the fight against terrorism, but sadly the same cannot be said for Turkey. Whether you supported the Iraq invasion or not, it is hard to ignore the detrimental role that Turkey played. It was the Turks who refused to allow American troops to invade Iraq from the north, forcing us to develop alternative, less efficient options. Moreover, Turkey’s failure to oppose and fight terror in their backyard, coupled with President Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq, created a corridor for ISIS in Iraq.
The United States has remained involved in Syria not because we seek “forever wars.” We remain involved because of what we have learned from the devastating lesson of Sept. 11, 2001 — that terror abroad doesn’t stay abroad. Terrorists wish to do us harm and will use any means possible to do so if given the opportunity. It is not an accident that America has not suffered another terror attack the size of 9/11. We know that unchallenged, ISIS is a threat to America. In order to achieve the enduring destruction of ISIS, the United States must work with allies willing to aid the fight and counter those which stand in the way.
As a member of the House Intelligence Committee who was involved in the investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 election, I know Russia is no friend of the United States. President Trump knows this as well. Last year, President Trump was right to question why NATO should be required to defend Germany, a NATO ally, from Russia, when Germany pays Russia billions of dollars for energy. Worse, however, could be said for Turkey, another NATO member, who is currently purchasing new weapons systems from Russia. Turkey is now turning these weapons on our Kurdish allies.
Actions speak louder than words, and Turkey has not acted as a friend of the United States recently, but the Kurds have. They have been loyal to the American people, and we are leaving them. As Turkey enters Syria, our Kurdish allies are left to fight alone. This is not right and not who we are as Americans.
Serving as a doctor in Iraq, there is an indelible pain left on my heart from zipping up the body bags of American soldiers. I vowed that I would never let their sacrifice be in vain. Leaving Syria would betray the sacrifice they made to protect our nation and to leave the world a better place.
U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup has served in the U.S. Army Reserve since 1998, currently holding the rank of colonel. In 2005-2006, he served a tour in Iraq as a combat surgeon and was awarded a Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge for his service. In 2018, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for heroism. He is a Republican representing Ohio’s 2nd District in the Cincinnati area.