Day 6·Q&A

A U.S. Army veteran who volunteered to fight with Syria's Kurds says he fears for their future

Iraq war veteran Porter Goodman volunteered to fight with Kurdish militias in northern Syria because he felt a moral obligation to support what he saw as their bid for a self-made democracy.

Trump's decision to pull out of Syria is a 'betrayal,' says Porter Goodman

Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters on an armoured personnel carrier drive to cross the border into Syria, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. Fighting continued in a northeast Syrian border town at the center of the fight between Turkey and Kurdish forces early Friday, despite a U.S.-brokered cease-fire that went into effect overnight. (Emrah Gurel/The Associated Press)

President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria is a mistake, and "a failure of the wider Western world," a U.S. veteran says.

In January 2016, Porter Goodman says he left Utah to volunteer as a civilian medic in Syria and ended up fighting with Kurdish forces against ISIS. He left the region in July of that year.

"It's horrible. Morale is low. These people were fighting for Western values for years," Goodman, who previously served with U.S. forces as a mechanic in Iraq between 2006 and 2007, told Day 6 host Brent Bambury, about the Kurdish fighters and civilians in northeastern Syria.

The People's Protection Units (YPG), an offshoot of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party, has been fighting for autonomy for ethnic Kurds in Syria and is considered a terrorist group by Turkey.

Last week, Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies invaded Kurdish-held territory in northeast. Just prior, Trump announced his decision to remove U.S. troops from the region, and that the U.S. would stand aside in the event of an invasion.

On Thursday, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence said that Turkey had agreed to a ceasefire, but war monitors report that fighting still continues in northern Syria.

"They feel like the world has abandoned them, and now they're having to compromise with the Assad regime just to survive the day," Goodman said.

Below is part of Goodman's conversation on Day 6.

You served in Iraq with the U.S. Army and then you decided to go to Syria as a civilian to join the Kurds. Why did you do that? 

I was so impressed with what I saw the Kurds accomplishing in northeast Syria. 

The democratic project that they were implementing, which champions the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, really counters corruption, which is one of the fundamental issues plaguing the Middle East, and it really champions gender equality and women's rights.

I saw them doing this in the midst of a brutal civil war where they were surrounded on one side by ISIS and on the other by a hostile Turkish state. I saw a massive informational war going on between the Kurds and the Turkish state. 

The Kurds were asking for help from abroad and I couldn't resist reaching out to them. They asked me to come and I went. 

How do you contrast [the Syria] project with what you had seen when you were in Iraq? You make it sound like it's a noble one. What makes it more noble? 

For one, this is a self-built democracy. What we saw in Iraq and in Afghanistan was attempts by the United States to go in and kind of force our democratic model on the people there. And it was met with varying success. 

Honestly, the outcome of those conflicts were barely possible, whereas here in northeast Syria, the Kurds have their own democratic model that is tailored to meet their needs and to answer the issues plaguing their region. And I mean, they accomplished it themselves. 

For the United States to become involved, we were invited in. We didn't have to do anything. We had all the success that we wish we had in Iraq and Afghanistan with a tiny, tiny fraction of the cost. 

Porter Goodman served as a mechanic with the U.S. Army in the Iraq war and volunteered as a civilian fighter with the Kurds in 2016. (Submitted by Porter Goodman)

You accepted the offer to fight with the Kurds, but you knew also that it was a dangerous place to be and you were wounded while you were there. So what made it worth risking your life? Why was it important to you as an individual? 

It is very rare, I think, in this world that you will see a conflict that is as black and white as the Syrian Kurds and the people of northeast Syria in their fight against the Islamic State. 

I was at a point in my life where I could drop things and I could go be a part of this and help try and make the world a better place. 

I knew that I was taking risks. I was nearly killed on more than one occasion. I was injured, but I've never regretted going there, and I feel privileged that I was able to work alongside these people. 

When you put it in those absolutist moral terms, what did you think this week when you heard Donald Trump say that the Kurds are basically just mercenaries who are paid to fight, and that the [Kurdistan Workers' Party] is as bad as ISIS?

Those are things that the Turkish state would want you to believe. 

On the one side of this information war, you have the Syrian Kurds who have established a free and open democracy where foreign journalists, independent journalists, human rights observers are free to come in and validate or investigate anything going on in the region that the Kurds control.

On the other side of this information war, you have the Turkish state, which is the world's number one jailer of journalists….

So in this information war, the vast majority of the misinformation is coming really from one side, from the Turkish state. 

Enter Donald Trump, who comes in far on the wrong side of this issue, and they're spreading misinformation without understanding the larger context of where this information came from or the motives and the reputation and the track record of the Turkish state, which has produced a lot of this misinformation. 

U.S. President Donald Trump responds to questions during a joint news conference with Italy's President Sergio Mattarella in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Oct. 16, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

If you had Donald Trump's ear, what would you say to him about withdrawing U.S. forces from northern Syria? 

I wouldn't say anything to Donald Trump. I don't see him as a reasonable person. 

My message is for the American people, [who] are being misled into believing that our involvement in Syria is anything like our involvement in Iraq or Afghanistan. It isn't. 

We are not democracy building. We are not policing a hostile civilian population. We're not dumping money into infrastructure. We were invited there by an already self-built democracy. 

All we had to do was keep a few troops in place and take a stand against [Turkish president] Erdogan and the narrative that he is driving. With some firm footing, we could have prevented this. 

Written by Chelsey Gould. Produced by Pedro Sanchez. To hear the full interview with Porter Goodman, download our podcast or click Listen above.