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Westchester Social Justice Forum 2018!

For all details please visit:

Minutes of March 2018 WESPAC Food Justice Committee Meeting

A huge thank you to Tracy for submitting these minutes:

Minutes Food Justice Meeting WESPAC March 13, 2018


 In attendance: Nada, Angel, Christina, Tracy, Chloe, Delia, Natalie, Lydia, Louise and Brianne. 

— Angel began giving the latest information about the struggles of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their allies to get Wendy’s to sign on to the Fair Food Program like all of its fast-food competitors have done. Today, Thursday, March 15, marks day 5 of a 5-day fast happening now in NYC led by the Coalition of Immokolee Workers to bring attention to Wendy’s refusal to sign on to the agreement which would ensure safe and clean working conditions for the farmworkers and a method to report sexual abuse. Instead, Wendy’s has chosen to exploit farmworkers in Mexico for their tomatoes instead of signing on. Join them if you can today at the Dag Hammarkjold Plaza, 245 East 47th Street at 5:00 pm for the concluding rally.

— Nada is exploring ways to make a green stretch of land that exists at Exit 5 of highway 287 into a White Plains/Greenburgh food forest with fruit and nut trees and other bee-friendly plantings. She is investigating with the NY Dept of Transportation and it was suggested to also contact Westchester Community College’s Native Plants department who has done a past program on roadside regeneration.

— Tracy and Bri shared information about a new venture that WESPAC is taking a lead role in – The Mobile Community Café Initiative. Under the umbrella of the Westchester Food Justice Collective, Nourish Food Truck will be hitting the road this summer offering up freshly prepared, healthy meals to low-income, food-insecure families. Making stops at community centers, senior centers and shelters in White Plains and Greenburg, the truck is on a mission to serve nutritious plant-based meals at no cost to under-served communities.

Unlike mobile food pantries, the truck is like a café on wheels that supports local farmers, functions as a platform for rising young chefs, educates the public, and reduces food waste. The truck’s owner, Brianne Brathwaite will be the main chef. WESPAC, the lead organization in the Collective, sees the non-profit work of the mobile community cafe to be a transformative shift toward more equitable communities where there is less hunger and greater social justice. We have submitted two grant proposals seeking start-up funding for this exciting initiative. 

Calling volunteers: we need help cleaning up the commercial kitchen at the Memorial United Methodist Church, which will function as the prep kitchen and storage kitchen for the food truck. Look for an email announcement coming soon for a date in late March.

An Evening to End Solitary Confinement at WESPAC

New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement

Tuesday, April 10th, 6:30pm to 8pm
at WESPAC, 77 Tarrytown Road, Suite 2W, White Plains, NY 10607

We will be joined by Cynthia Williams, a 2015 Beyond the Bars of Justice Fellow at Columbia University, who spent time in a federal facility and who will speak about how arbitrary and dehumanizing the system is, how she coped and how people end up in solitary confinement. She will also speak about the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement and will inspire us to get involved and to effect positive change. 

This event is free and open to the public.  WESPAC has 10 copies of the book Hell is a Very Small Place: Voices from Solitary Confinement in our office that are available now ahead of the event for people to read and become more familiar with this issue.  Please call to arrange pick up.  The United Nations has defined solitary confinement as a form of torture.  Free will offerings to support Cynthia and this work will be requested.  For more information, call 914.449.6514 or email [email protected].  

Please do not remain silent about Solitary Confinement while 80-100,000 human beings are trapped and remain invisible  each year for infractions as minor as possession of too many postage stamps.   Create an opportunity for others to learn the truth about solitary confinement.  SWASC Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement has created two 8 minute videos that encapsulates what people need to know.  
Take Action.  We need everyday people, like you and me, to show these videos to our informal and formal  networks. Use your smart phone.  Keep it Simple. Discussion will automatically follow from these provocative and thoughtful presentations.
Johnny Perez: Three years in Solitary 
Mary Buser – The Helping Professions & Solitary Confinement
We also created a petition for people to sign asking the governing commission to reconsider current practices we believe to be unethical and human torture.  
Website Resource: Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement
We have a monthly newsletter.
Sign up now.
National Networking Conference Call on the third Monday of the month at 7pm EST.
Conference call number (515) 739-1015 PIN. 455-445-570#
One hour zoom presentation:
Zoom presentation
Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement: Undoing Racism in the Criminal Justice System. (2/18)
This video (1hour) offers a brief U. S. history of structural racism and discussion of solitary confinement and specifically the issue of dual loyalty for mental health professionals. 
Sandra Bernabei, LCSW is a co-convener and steering committee member of SWASC as well as a community organizer and a social worker in private practice in Westchester and NYC. She is the past-president of NASW-NYC.
 Sandy is the founding member of the Antiracist Alliance. 
Marguerita Johnson Tolson BSW, CASAC-T is a graduate student at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Services. She is completing an internship with Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement.
“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Martin Luther King Jr

Separate and Unequal

Good Food Farmers

Hi Nada,

Thank you for helping to spread the word about Good Food Farmers – we really appreciate it!
Please feel free to be in touch with any questions!
Many thanks, 

Good Food Farmers Network is comprised of small-scale and beginning farmers anchored by more experienced growers committed to regenerative agriculture. We work hard to produce and deliver the best quality foods grown with the highest standards of care for the earth and all who inhabit it. We welcome your support and the opportunity to grow food for you!
A few Good Food Farmers highlights: 
  • We are farmer-owned and farmer-led – a farmer cooperative in essence but not quite structured that way yet – all purchases directly support our farms. 
  • Our commitment to producing and delivering good food is unwavering. All our foods are incredibly fresh, grown and harvested with great care, and produced without pesticideswithout synthetic fertilizerswithout genetically modified organisms, and with the highest degree of animal welfare and environmental stewardship
  • You pay by the week (there’s a $45 order minimum to help make sure we’re covering our delivery costs), and you can cancel if needed. 
  • You can put your delivery on hold anytime, whether you’re going out of town or simply feel overwhelmed by the bounty of the seasons. 
  • When you sign up, you pick a Farmer’s Choice default bag. Each week, we choose items for the default bags based on what’s looking good in the fields. We announce the items in the Weekly e-Newsletter sent out on Fridays each week. If you do nothing, you will receive the default bag. But, you can also log-in to your online account and completely customize your order if desired. We have 35+ items available each week during the winter months and 65+ items during the main growing season, so there’s lots of flexibility to build a bag that suits you. About half of our members choose to customize, and about half choose to get the default bag, often remarking that they like the mix of seasonal items and don’t want to bother customizing. Either way, it’s up to you! The order deadline for holds and customizing is Sunday nights at 11:59 pm.
  • We deliver to Mt. Kisco each week with pickup at the Khader Center available each Wednesday from 10 am to 6 pm. We also offer home and office delivery in some parts of lower Westchester from Pelham to White Plains and neighborhoods in between. 
  • For more details, feel free to visit our GFF website.
  • To join, you can go directly to the GFF online store.
  • You can also check out our Crop Plan (pdf) to get a sense for what we offer throughout the year, though crop plans are always subject to weather, pests, and other farming factors!
Thank you for your interest, and we are happy to answer any questions whether technical or simply to learn more about us and all of our farms. Please feel free to be in touch! 
– Hilary, on behalf of all your Good Food Farmers
Hilary Corsun
Dog Wood Farm 
& GFF Coordinator
518-821-4282 farm office
c/o Dog Wood Farm, 85 Hartigan Road, Old Chatham, NY 12136
Good Food Farmers is farmer-owned and works to support sustainable agriculture and small-scale and beginning farmers by delivering good food into the hands of more people. 

Richard Falk speaks on Israel and the question of apartheid
Richard Falk speaks on Israel and the question of apartheid

Richard Falk. Eric A. Gordon | People’s World

CULVER CITY, Calif.—From 2008 to 2014 Professor Richard Falk served as United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. He dropped a bombshell on his audience when he declared that ending the Occupation, as so many human rights activists around the world seek to do, is simply not the answer, and not enough to address what he has seen and studied for many years.

“Israel has made it clear that the end of Occupation would be the end of the conflict,” he told more than a hundred attentive listeners February 7th at this city’s Culver-Palms United Methodist Church. That would be “a way of finding some measure of normalcy,” he said, and ignoring the problems besetting the 20 percent Palestinian minority within Israel’s recognized borders, not to mention the several million Palestinians—the youngest of them now in the fifth generation since expulsion from Israel in 1948—still confined to refugee camps in the West Bank and in a number of neighboring countries, and also not to mention the uncertain fate of the Gazans if the end of Occupation dealt separately with that million-plus population.

No, Falk, insisted, it is only correct to look at the Palestinians as a coherent people, wherever they live, and not provide tacit consent to the fragmentation both geographical and political to which Israel has subjected them. Viewed in those terms, ending the Occupation alone, without addressing the larger issue afflicting the Palestinian nation, is “a misunderstood pragmatism.”

That larger issue, claims this academic, author of some twenty books, is the structure of oppression itself, including physical displacement and all the policies and practices Israel promotes toward the Palestinian people. “The conflict is not purely territorial,” Falk says. The UN report that he co-authored with Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University, names that structure “apartheid,” meaning “separation” in Afrikaans.

The 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid does not speak only of South Africa. There the term is defined as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”

Following Prof. Falk’s formal remarks, a questioner asked if in the case of Israel “apartheid” would be the correct term to apply, since the Jewish population of Israel it itself multi-ethnic and multi-racial, comprising not only Ashkenazic Jews from Northern and Eastern Europe, but Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews from the Mediterranean and Muslim lands, as well as Ethiopian and Indian Jews. Falk responded that Israeli law treats all these Jews the same, entitling them to the same rights and privileges that are denied to Palestinians, such as the sacred “right of return” to Israel by Jews, most of whose ancestors never inhabited Biblical Israel. “The whole rationale of Israel is to be a Jewish state, and they don’t fragment their own identity.”

Richard Falk, 87, is professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, where he taught for forty years. He is chairman of both the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor and serves on the editorial board of The Nation magazine. Although he retired from formal teaching in 2001, the following year he began a career as research professor at the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He currently directs a Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy project.

The professor’s talk was co-sponsored by a coalition of groups inclusive of Muslims, Christians and Jews: L.A. Jews for Peace and the United Methodists’ Holy Land Task Force, along with The Markaz, Friends of Sabeel of L.A. and Orange County, People for Palestine-Israel Justice, Southern California Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring, the Orange County Cousins Club, Jewish Voices for Peace, and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP).

The Falk-Tilley report, “Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid,” was released March 15, 2017, under the aegis of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). Its release caused an immediate firestorm, raising accusations of anti-Semitism against the authors (Falk is Jewish incidentally), and providing space for more UN-bashing especially on the part of Israel and the United States. Although the ESCWA countries unanimously endorsed the report, and although the report was issued as representing the view of the authors alone and not the UN per se, it was removed from the UN website under threat of U.S. withdrawal of UN funding; however, it is otherwise available.

Defenders of Israel are particularly sensitive about the word “apartheid,” citing factors that existed in South Africa but which do not exist in Israel, such as separate park benches and Arab representation in the Knesset. But as anyone who follows Israeli politics knows, leading figures in Israeli life, including prime ministers, writers and journalists from both the left and the right, have consistently used this word in Hebrew, addressing fellow Israelis, warning of the consequences of a failure to make peace leading to permanent apartheid. It’s when the word gets uttered in public forums in English that Israelis and their supporters hear the whole Zionist project being attacked. Jimmy Carter and John Kerry are only two American statesmen who have felt the brunt of Israel’s condemnation.
In many other ways Israel has flouted the international community, for example, by referring to the occupied West Bank territories as “Judea and Samaria,” ancient Biblical terms which international law does not recognize as legitimate; and insisting on calling the Palestinians “Arabs,” as if to say they belong in other homelands, not in the Jewish state.

And although there are a few outstanding border questions in the world, there is no other state which doesn’t even claim its final and definitive borders: By creating more “facts on the ground” with each year’s growing settler encroachment on land that would have been the natural Palestinian state, Israel has been pushing steadily toward complete annexation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. Israel has tried to politically separate Gaza from the larger Palestinian nation and for now seems to have abandoned that area for Jewish settlement. But at least one strand of thinking in Israel wishes to remove the Palestinians from Gaza one way or another, and free up that land for eventual incorporation into the Zionist state.

The problem of Israel, according to Falk, is that the nationalism born in Europe in the 19th century made its way to the rest of the world by the mid-20th century and helped to create many newly independent countries in the wake of colonialism. But Israel, founded in 1948, came along at the end of the nationalist wave, and the global community had become skeptical of colonial projects in the underdeveloped world.

“The Palestinian people have been made to pay the price for the crimes of the Nazis,” Falk says.

There is an inherent tension, says Falk, between Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state and its claim to be a democratic society. Especially as more and more Palestinians fall under direct or indirect Israeli control in the variously segmented entities between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, the contradiction between these two professed ideals becomes ever sharper.

In almost every case, Falk says, where an oppressed people, with inferior arms and weak social institutions, sets out to oppose their colonial or neocolonial masters, they eventually win. The Palestinians will continue to resist, “and they are right to resist,” he insists. From the Israeli point of view, the resistance is a challenge to the established order and must be put down. The United States, more substantively than anyone else in the world, gives Israel this unconditional mandate.
“Until that mandate is lifted,” says Falk, “there will be no peace. It’s our struggle here to end this destructive policy.”

Patrick Lawrence’s “A Conversation with Richard Falk,” touching on Palestinian rights, international law and world affairs, can be read here. Part 2 of that conversation is here. Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley wrote an “Open Letter to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley on Our Report on Apartheid in Israel,” which can be read here.

An Evening of Community Dance at WESPAC

Saturday, March 3rd at 7pm at WESPAC
77 Tarrytown Road, Suite 2W
White Plains, NY 10607

Join us for a delightful and rejuvenating evening as we share simple movements and dances from our various cultural backgrounds creating joy, unity and healing. This event is free and open to the public; free will donations will be graciously accepted to promote this type of programming at WESPAC.  For more information and to RSVP (encouraged!), please contact Vitalah Simon at [email protected].  Free on-site parking available in the upper parking lot behind the building to enter into our office space, Suite 2W.  Light refreshments and spring water will be available.

Save the Date! WESPAC Annual Awards Dinner!

Buy tickets here: 

WESPAC Middle East Committee invites you to participate in Palestine book reading together

Yesterday the WESPAC Middle East Committee met and discussed plans for this year’s 70th Nakba Commemoration with the Westchester Palestinian Community.  
To gear up for a larger event later this Spring, we will be reading together Susan Abulhawa’s very fine novel “Mornings in Jenin” to better understand the Palestinian narrative.  The committee would like to invite members of the broader social justice community to join with us in this book reading.
We will read a third of the novel by the end of February (first 100 pages), and will convene at WESPAC on Tuesday, February 27th at 7pm to discuss the first third of the novel.  The book is available both at local libraries as well as online.  Please let us know if you will be joining us.


“Every now and again a literary work changes the way people think. Abulhawa…has crafted a brilliant first novel about Palestine… [This] intensely beautiful fictionalized history… should be read by both politicians and those interested in contemporary politics.” –  Library Journal

“This complex story is beautifully told… The perspective is brutal, yet ultimately not without hope… [Abulhawa] draws us into the nightmare of her heroine’s existence with convincing passion.” –  Historical Novels Review

“Illuminating and deeply moving, Abulhawa’s epic resonates with compassion…You can’t ask more of historical fiction.” –  Brooklyn Rail

“Abulhawa’s pathos and mastery enables the reader to taste, smell and grasp the chronicles of Palestine as if one is actually there… Lovely and heartrending, this story is a must-read for those who wish to not only understand the catastrophe of the Palestinians with their heads but with their hearts.” –  Palestine Chronicle

Winner of the USA Book News Best Books Award” – 

A Sustainable US Policy for North Syria, the Kurds, Turkey, and Damascus

A Sustainable US Policy for

North Syria, the Kurds, Turkey,

and Damascus

 Joshua Landis and Matthew Barber


January 31, 2018


Wikimedia Commons

This article is a “part-two” to the previous article “U.S. Policy Toward the Levant, Kurds, and Turkey“ which warned that the United State’s decision to back Kurdish nationalism in Northern Syria in an uncompromising fashion would provoke negative consequences. The push-back against this policy has begun. Turkey’s invasion of Afrin and campaign against the YPG—the U.S. backed Kurdish militia in Syria—is being launched to counter Washington’s decision to stay in Syria and arm and train a Border Guard for the emerging North Syrian state that the U.S. is sponsoring.

U.S. accomplishments in the region now stand thus: No regime change has been effected in Syria. Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq all have pro-Iranian governments and Iran has more influence in the Levant/Iraq than ever before. By promoting Kurdish nationalism to “rollback Iran,” the U.S. has pushed its ally Turkey into the sphere of Russian influence and caused Turkey’s interests to align with those of Damascus. And finally, even the sole partner the U.S. has in the area—the Kurds—are now upset because they’ve lost one of their important homelands in Syria. Such is the price of a policy based around an obsession with Iran.

Trying to play the game of making the Kurds into an obstacle to Iranian influence, the U.S. has now had to sacrifice Afrin in order to assuage Turkey’s ire; simultaneously, it has to convince the Kurds to exercise restraint and not to allow Turkey to provoke them into a strong reaction. If Kurds fight with Turkey in Afrin, it will give Turkey a pretext to attack and invade Kurdish areas further east; this may very well be what Turkey hopes will happen. The PYD will probably get a message from the U.S. urging them not to resist much in Afrin, but the problem facing the U.S. is not over, as Afrin may not be where Turkey stops.

The purpose of the previous post was to highlight several essential points regarding American interests in the region. The theme here is how we are now witnessing the (hopefully reversible) loss of an important U.S. ally, Turkey. After a long civil war that has ultimately boosted Iranian influence and distanced Turkey from the U.S., the U.S. must now think about what it can salvage in terms of its longer-term interests.

U.S. policy should focus on these objectives:

  • Retaining Turkey within its orbit rather than losing it to Russian influence
  • Fulfilling our responsibility to the Syrian Kurds in a way that ensures their safety and future while also assuaging Turkey’s concerns
  • Positioning itself as a mediator between Iran and Saudi Arabia rather than going all-in on one side
  • Promoting the recovery and rebuilding of the region, not keeping it broken and poor

How Far Will the U.S. Go in Supporting Kurdish Nationalism?

The U.S. has set up Turkey’s choices thus: either side with the U.S. and the Kurds against Iran and Russia—OR—side with Russia (and thereby Iran) against the U.S. and the Kurds. Of course, Turkey will never compromise on its national interests; the first choice is simply not an option from Turkey’s point of view and the invasion of Afrin underscores that fact. Turkey does not like Iran, but it is willing to throw in its lot with Russia (and by proxy Assad and Iran), in order to protect its own national interests. We are forcing Turkey into the embrace of Russia and Iran; this is the price of promoting Kurdish nationalism to this extreme.

Regarding Damascus’ perceptions, Syria does not want to lose the fertile and oil-rich territories in its northeast. It must rely on those resources to rebuild following this war. A U.S. policy that facilitates the complete secession of Syrian Kurdistan from the state poses a serious risk in the eyes of Damascus.

The U.S. has done the surprisingly unlikely in uniting two enemies against the U.S. itself. Turkey and Syria are not natural allies—they are opponents—yet the direction that U.S. policy has begun taking is driving them together through this shared concern. If the U.S. helps the Kurds take 25% of fertile and oil-rich Syria, we will drive Damascus and Turkey together and they will both oppose Kurdish state-building over the long-term.

In addition to losing our major ally, Turkey, to Russian influence, the fact that the Kurdish project will be opposed on all sides over the long term must be kept in mind. Will this really be the best thing for Syria’s Kurds in the long run? And continuing our current level of support for a Kurdish nationalist project will mean a minimal commitment of 30-40 years, very expensive, with an ongoing presence of U.S. military on the ground. Further, the U.S. will have to be prepared to respond to Turkey militarily if Turkey does not stop with Afrin and continues by bombing other Kurdish areas across the border.

This is a terrible policy and one lacking long-term vision.

What About Our Responsibilities to the Kurds?

The fact that the U.S. helped the Kurdish-led forces, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to conquer Arab-majority areas north of the Euphrates has created a dilemma. The U.S. cannot now withdraw from those areas without abandoning the Kurds.

Further, the Kurds were the most important ally in Syria in the fight against ISIS and the U.S. now has a duty to protect Kurds from revenge originating with Damascus.

Turkey, Syria, and the Kurds must be aided in coming to an understanding that will promote stability; the U.S. can broker this and help to guarantee it. In this arrangement, neither Turkey, Damascus, nor the Kurds will gain everything they want, but all three will get more than they now have. Already in places like Hasakeh province in northern Syria, the Syrian government and Kurdish authorities have worked out and respected revenue sharing

deals for oil exploitation that have been in effect during the civil war.

The U.S. can help the Kurds make an advantageous deal with Damascus that protects their autonomy. A safe future for the Kurds means a federal region. Of course the Russians and the Syrian government will make demands of their own. Such demands are likely to focus on the economy and sovereignty. The Syrian government is eager to have the main road to Baghdad opened. The U.S. presently blocks it at Tanf in order to stop Syrian trade. The Damascus government will also ask that the U.S. facilitate the opening of the main highway between Damascus and Jordan, which is also blocked by U.S. and Saudi-backed militias. Damascus needs money to rebuild. The U.S. can use its leverage over Syria’s economy to get a good deal for the Kurds. It cannot use that leverage to drive Assad from power. The U.S. does not have enough leverage through control of 28% of Syrian territory to unseat the Assad regime; it does have sufficient leverage to provide security and a useful autonomy deal for the Kurds, who have fought so hard in partnership with the United States to destroy ISIS.

Assad fears and dislikes Turkey, which serves as the main home and advocate of the Syrian opposition. By promoting an understanding between Damascus and the Kurds, the Syrian Kurds would gain a level of autonomy that they did not enjoy before the war. The Kurds will also be able to renegotiate their share of income from Syria’s oil and water from a position of strength.

For its part, Damascus will gain back some of the oil, water, and agricultural resources it needs to rebuild the country and which the U.S. now denies it. It will also ensure the unity of country.

According to this plan, the Turks will gain assurances that the Kurds will not be an independent nation and will not be free to assist the PKK separatists in Turkey militarily. Turkey, for its part, would prefer to stay in the orbit of the U.S., rather than move to Russia’s; an agreement between Damascus and the Kurds that keeps Syrian Kurdistan “Syrian” will allay some of the Turks’ fears, reduce their perceived need to attack more areas inside Syria, and begin to restore Turkey’s relationship with the U.S. Ultimately, all of these approaches will serve the objective of a gradual reaffirmation of the integrity of international borders, which the U.S. has pledged to respect.

By using its leverage to make a deal between Turkey, Syria and the Kurds, the U.S. can maximize its interests in the region. It will guarantee security for the Kurds, promote its counter-terrorism agenda by helping to create jobs and tamp down conflict, and retain Turkey as an ally and friend.

The Alternative

The alternative is for the U.S. to trap itself in a “forever war.” If it decides to support the formation of an independent Kurdish state in North Syria with its own military, Turkey, Syria, Russia, and Iran will be forced together despite their usual rivalries in order to expel America and destroy the new state which threatens the interests of them all. The Kurds will be boycotted and kept poor, just as the US will sanction and boycott Syria in order to keep it poor and weak. Both sides will be losers; both sides will commit themselves to destroying the other; and both sides will destabilize and radicalize the region. America will play a divisive and destabilizing role, rather than a constructive and unifying role. This current policy erodes U.S. influence in the Middle East. Turkey’s invasion of Afrin is only the first salvo.

The consequences of the “rollback Iran” policy have now become evident. This policy will continue to be detrimental to long-term U.S. interests in that it will perpetuate the instability of the region. Maintaining the current approach of unrestricted support for a Kurdish nationalist project at the expense of the national interests of two large states (Turkey and Syria) will mean the loss of an important U.S. ally, ongoing sanctions, fragmented states, American troops in the Syrian desert for years, and so forth. This is a miserable, petty, and destructive path forward. This Iran-obsessed policy may serve Israeli and Saudi short-term interests—it may mollify Washington’s anger at failing to dislodge the Assad government—but it does not serve U.S. interests.

American interests are served by the reconstruction of the region. Promoting stability in Syria and Iraq will enhance long-term U.S. interests through preventing the return of ISIS and promoting the success of American counter-terrorism strategy.

What the region needs more than anything else is to revitalize its economy. But the U.S. must recognize that the only way to do this is to unleash the Iranian economy. Iran is indispensable for the restoration of the region’s economy and only Iran is capable of supporting the level of rebuilding needed after these years of war. This is why I said in the previous post that the unprecedented alignment of the governments of all four countries—Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Iran—presents a new opportunity for stability and recovery in the region.

The U.S. should help promote prosperity in the region, rather than working to inhibit it. Keeping the region fragmented and poor is a recipe for longer-term instability and extremism.

U.S. policy in the region since 2003 has largely facilitated a shift toward Shi’i ascendancy. America has to recognize that Iran has now come out largely victorious in the proxy conflicts in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq—and it is the U.S. that has largely helped them win this victory. The U.S. has helped facilitate the emergence of a new level of Shi’i power and has seen Shi’i forces as the champion of American interests, including deposing Saddam Hussein, combatting al-Qaida, and destroying ISIS. Both President Bush and President Obama promoted Shi’i interests, arming Shi’is aligned with Iran to serve in these objectives. The U.S. Air Force pummeled one Sunni city after another: Falouja, Takrit, Ramadi, Mosul, and Raqqa. Now the Shi’is have largely won the battle for preeminence in the Northern Middle East—in no small part because of U.S. support. Washington has built up an army in Iraq that is commanded by Shi’is and is quite sectarian in outlook; consequently it looks toward Iran. It also distrusts Saudi Arabia, which has championed and supported Sunni Arab militias. This is not something that we can undo.

If this region is going to rebuild, the U.S. must recognize that Iran has won this war—and the U.S. must come to terms with the fact that it was its own policies that were largely responsible for that victory. The U.S. will do a disservice to the Iraq-Syria-Lebanon conflict zone if it simply sides with the Gulf States and Israeli interests without long-term foresight. The way forward is to follow the Obama policy of balancing Iran and Saudi Arabia. By doing this, the U.S. can protect Israel and limit any aggression of Iran toward Israel and the Gulf.

Lift sanctions on Iran and proceed with the Iranian nuclear deal. Work to engage Iran. Don’t pursue a policy that alienates our Turkish ally and requires a decades-long commitment for supporting an ethnic-nationalist project that will be opposed by every neighbor of the Kurds—this is a terribly high price to pay in order to gratify Israeli and Saudi interests and a price that Washington will eventually back away from. It will not benefit the Kurds in the long run. They are too poor to stand alone, without a U.S. no-fly zone or a military force paid for by Washington. These expenses are unsustainable. If the Trump administration absorbs costs upholding Kurdish independence that are too high, some future administration will abandon the Kurds, letting them down with a thump. The U.S. must not launch a “forever war.” The moral obligation to the Kurds can be fulfilled by making sure that they strike an advantageous deal with both Turkey and Syria for autonomy and get a healthy share of Syria’s resources. Working for a negotiated solution to Kurdish autonomy, rather than one that alienates the regional powers, isolates Washington, and beggars the Syrian people is in America’s interest.

Joshua Landis is the director of the Center for Middle East Studies and an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Matthew Barber is PhD student at the University of Chicago. Reprinted, with permission, from Syria Comment.

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