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By Fareed Zakaria
The situation in Iraq today is perilous, but also chaotic and confusing. Should the United States do more to help the communities under threat of destruction? If it does intervene for humanitarian reasons here, then why not in a place like Syria, which has seem many terrible atrocities and massacres as well? How should we think through the issue?
I have been cautious about urging the United States to get back into Iraq, but I believe that in the current circumstances, the Obama administration should intervene more forcefully and ambitiously, use air power, offer training support and weaponry if needed.
The humanitarian crisis unfolding in Iraq is terrible enough. But sometimes, as in Syria, it is unclear whether U.S. military intervention could really help matters, whether there’s a clear plan that would work. In Iraq now there is such a path, one that also offers the strategic rationale for U.S. action.
What is now at stake in Iraq is crucial to U.S. interests – the survival of the Kurdish region in that country.
Since 1991, for 23 years, the United States has protected the Kurds of Iraq from being attacked and destroyed as a community. In that period, the Kurds have built up a modern, increasingly liberal, pro-Western and pro-American oasis in the Middle East.
The largely autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq has become an open, cosmopolitan, forward-looking place with a booming economy – construction cranes, car dealerships and fast food chains sprout up every day.
The American University in Sulaimani is a place marked by a modern educational outlook and open dialog. Kurdish leaders have been responsible in their efforts to secure their future – not declaring independence, working to end Kurdish terrorism in Turkey, supporting humanitarian efforts for Syrian refugees. They have been a force for stability in a region in chaos.
One of the lessons of American foreign policy over the last six decades has been that interventions work when the locals are led by popular, legitimate leaders and they want to fight for their cause. Think of South Korea compared with South Vietnam – they don’t work when the locals simply will not fight.
The Kurds want to fight for their freedom, for their independence. They have a strong, well-trained army. Their leaders are popular and legitimate, they have been close allies of the United States. Now they urgently need America's help. The Obama administration should answer their call.