Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Turkish Vote On Iraq Tomorrow?

By Cernig

The Financial Times reports that Turkey's parliament may vote as early as tomorrow on whether to give its military the authority for attacks into iraqi territory. However, the Turks themselves are saying that the authority, which everyone expects to by approved by parliament, won't necessarily be acted upon quickly. Which means there's still time for the US and - particularly - the EU to head of events at the pass.
But the Bush administration is worried that a large-scale Turkish military operation in Iraq could spiral out of control, leading to a possible clash between Turkish and Kurdish government soldiers.

...Mr Erdogan said yesterday that the only target of any Turkish military operation would be the PKK.

But US officials are also worried that other countries could be drawn into a conflict and have noted recent clashes between Iranian forces and Kurdish rebels based in north-east Iraq.

Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said he was “extremely concerned” about the possibility of conflict on the Turkish-Iraq border.

Still, Peter Rodman, a former senior Bush administration Pentagon official, argued that from the US standpoint it would be preferable that Turkey sent troops into northern Iraq rather than cut off crucial military supply lines because of the Armenian genocide resolution.

“Maybe that is the only solution,” said Mr Rodman, now at the Brookings Institution. “If the US is unable to deal with it [the PKK], and the Iraqis are unwilling to deal with them, what else do you tell the Turks? There may be ways to go after the PKK and accomplish something, whereas strangling our logistical lifeline doesn’t help them with the PKK and it just creates a monumental problem.”
Attempts by the US and Iraqi governments to defuse the PKK problem have been nothing more than a facade for appeasement of Kurdish leaders who know they have both administrations by the short-and-curlys, unable to crack down too much in the face of tacit and not so tacit Kurdish approval of the PKK. That's the most likely reason for the abrupt and very under-reported resignation of Joseph Ralston, the retired US general who had been appointed to co-ordinate US/Iraqi anti-PKK efforts.

However, Turkish bad feelings about their long-term ally America go deeper than the current issues, even the misguided Congressional push for a resolution on the Armenian genocide or the pretense at a crack-down on the PKK.
Last month a poll released by the Pew Foundation found that of all of the Middle Eastern countries surveyed, Turkey has by far the largest percentage of people naming the United States as the country that poses the greatest threat. Sixty-four percent of Turkish respondents named the United States as the most threatening state in the system. Only 48% of respondents in the Palestinian territories felt the same way.
Reasons include the current hot-button issues as well as the Iraqi debacle and the notion that, just maybe, the US is tarring all Muslim states with an Islamophobic brush. But as Chris Patten, former cabinet minister for Thatcher's government, points out today, the primary reason is that the Turk's rightly feel they're getting the wrong end of the stick from both the Bush administration and from those European politicians that administration has supported most openly. Although Patten talks exclusively about European bigotry, an extension to include the U.S. in his criticisms too is an obvious one.
Turkey was critical to Europe in the cold war. For 40 years, it stood lonely guard on the south-eastern third of Nato's frontline, paying the price in military-heavy government and delayed development. There was little carping about its Muslim identity then, and a cultural variety that included Turkey was considered a European strength. After communism's collapse, Turkey kept contributing to Europe's security, giving troops and legitimacy to EU-backed missions in Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Balkans, and even Congo. If EU-Turkish relations had not stumbled (for which all sides are responsible), it would likely be supporting a force for Darfur.

...Election campaigns - notably those of Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel - featured a demeaning of the Turkish "other" and proposals that Europe drop its promise of membership. Conservative EU politicians admit privately that Turkey is more benefit than threat, but that to say so out loud would be political suicide.
Patten is correct (and if you'd asked me 20 years ago if I'd ever write that, I would have blacked your eye) - this is no way to treat a friend. Both the EU and the US should be falling over themselves to rebuild bridges with the Turks. It's the right thing to do - and the most pragmatically "realist" foreign policy. Patten notes that "Turkey is not fundamentally different to Greece, Spain and Portugal, where EU leaps of faith were essential to a transition from military authoritarianism to stability and democracy." And the West will need Turkey's goodwill when the Kurds finally decide they won't suck up to the U.S. as protection any longer, take off the gloves, and open up another front in the slow-burning Iraqi civil war.

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