President Elect Joe Biden has historically had a loyal understanding of the Kurdish people, vastly different from President Trump. The Kurds should celebrate this new President, and look forward to the new chapter of US-Kurdish relations, argues Ruwayda Mustafah.

There is little doubt that the election of Joe Biden will see a considerable shift in America's Middle Eastern policy, from the war in Yemen to the Iran nuclear deal.

Yet one area of US Middle East policy that has received little attention, or predictions, since Biden's election victory regards America's relationship with the Kurds. Given the relevance of Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey to US engagement in the Middle East, and the Kurdish question that is posed within these nations, a clear policy on the Kurds and their involvement in regional issues will take shape.

Biden's history as both a senator and vice-president gives us a very strong indication as to what approach towards the Kurds may be – and it may well be that the US is about to receive its most pro-Kurdish president yet.

Throughout his career, Biden – who as a senator served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – has demonstrated consistent loyalty to, and understanding of, the Kurdish people, even within the constraints of US diplomacy and foreign policy.

Biden's engagement with the Kurds goes back to the First Gulf War, and in both Gulf Wars Biden was vocal in his concerns for the fate of the Kurds. Biden was fully aware of how the Kurds had suffered at the hands of Saddam, and staunchly defended their rights and freedom. In 2002, whilst visiting Iraqi Kurdistan, he famously declared that 'the mountains are not your only friends.'

Biden is one of those few politicians whose actions truly seem to match his words. During the Obama administration, Biden – as vice president – was one of the Obama administration's senior figures overseeing policy in Iraq. He visited the region no less than 24 times, forging a particularly strong relationship with the late President Jalal Talabani and former President Masoud Barzani respectively.

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The realities and limitations of regional politics in the Middle East – including the US' need to maintain positive relations with Turkey – means Biden will never be able to openly support Kurdish independence. Biden will however most likely stand up to Turkey much more than Trump on the issue of the Kurds, and it was notable that President Erdogan took so long to congratulate the president-elect following his victory.

The Trump administration, in contrast, would have been hard pushed to show less regard for the Kurdish people than they did. Trump had in 2016 declared himself a 'big fan' of Kurdish military forces, but by 2017 had already flipped and was expressing his disdain towards them.

In 2019, Trump infamously betrayed Kurdish forces – who had helped the Western world in their fight against ISIS – when he authorised a US withdrawal from northern Syria that left them vulnerable to a Turkish offensive. Trump's defence was that the Kurds 'didn't help us with Normandy'.

How the new administration in the White House will work with the Kurdish regional government to help them achieve their social, security and political goals isn't clear cut – there are so many regional considerations to take into account. But whatever the Biden administration's approach is, it will have ramifications not just for Kurds in the region, but for all Kurds worldwide – including the 50,000 in the UK – all of whom see their identities as very much intertwined with the Kurdish homeland.

What we do know is that US support in the form of aid, protection and military equipment for Syrian Kurds fighting ISIS will continue and may increase, whilst Biden may also push for more Kurdish representation in deciding the futures of both Syria and Iraq. We also know Biden will take a much stronger stance against Turkish adventurism and aggression than Trump did.

I truly believe the Kurdish community worldwide should be celebrating Biden's election with a renewed sense of hope and optimism – even if Kurdish independence is off the table and the situation on the ground may not dramatically change. Joe Biden however has proven himself a genuine and resilient ally of the Kurdish people – having extended a hand of friendship not out of political opportunity, but out of principal.

The Kurdish people pride themselves on the values of democracy and pluralism, and with these values again instilled in the White House, we look forward to a positive new chapter in US-Kurdish relations and a strengthened Kurdish identity and influence across the region.

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