A Foreign-Policy Turkey

Posted: Oct 18, 2007 12:01 AM
A Foreign-Policy Turkey

Just as it appears the United States may have turned an important corner in Iraq with the reported disabling of al-Qaida, Turkey is threatening to invade northern Iraq in an attempt to stop attacks by Kurdish rebels on Turkish territory.

House Democrats added fuel to the combustible situation when the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Oct. 10 passed a resolution that recognizes as genocide the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The resolution is opposed by the Bush administration, not necessarily because it disagrees that genocide occurred nearly a century ago, but because such a resolution will inflame passions at a time when there are passions enough in the neighborhood. Democrats, who control Congress, are playing a dangerous game that might severely damage America’s foreign policy, further diminish President Bush, hand over a weakened presidency to his successor and put more of our troops in jeopardy. That reality apparently began to reach the Democratic congressional leadership by midweek, as supporters of the resolution began a retreat and senior Democrats urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to drop her support for the measure.

Since Saddam Hussein was toppled from power, Turkey has been threatening to invade northern Iraq to settle old scores. Turkey has the provocation it believes it needs in the killing of 30 Turkish soldiers and civilians by members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (known as the PKK) in just the last two weeks.

Writing in the publication Insight, Gallia Lindenstrauss notes, “(Turkish) President Abdullah Gul accused American politicians of sacrificing big issues for petty games of domestic politics.” That sounds about right. Are Democrats so cynical that they would stir an already boiling pot in hopes that it would negate whatever success America may finally be having in quelling terrorist acts in Iraq? One would hope that is not the case, but given their leadership’s rhetoric about the war already being lost and their refusal to acknowledge even the slightest progress in Iraq as positive lest it reflect well on the Bush administration, cynicism about their cynical actions might be justified.

If Turkey will not be dissuaded from entering Iraq to root out the rebels, the Bush administration might consider helping the Turks do the job quickly and as painlessly as possible so that they might hastily return to their side of the border. If the Kurds wish to continue with their prosperous and more peaceful lifestyles, they will help locate and expunge the rebels among them. The last thing the region needs is to inflame Islamic fundamentalists, who, despite tensions that have long threatened to topple Ankara’s secular government, have so far managed to peacefully coexist with moderate Muslims, as well as secularists.

A senior commander of the rebel group, Duran Kalkan, was quoted in an Associated Press story as saying the Turkish military will suffer a serious blow if it launches a cross-border offensive and would be “bogged down in a quagmire.” Another quagmire is precisely what is not needed in Iraq. Oil prices, which have increased in recent days in anticipation of Turkish military action, would go even higher should another front be opened in Iraq.

There should be no rush to condemn a genocide that took place more than nine decades ago (and the very word “genocide” is in dispute as a description of what happened). Politically it might play well for Democrats, but it could backfire and have severe repercussions for American foreign policy, American forces in Iraq (supply lines could be disrupted) and American interests in Iraq and throughout the region for years to come. The next president cannot possibly enjoy long-term benefits from such shortsightedness by House Democrats.

Whatever immediate political gain Democrats might hope to extract from this misguided and ill-timed resolution will be overcome by the long-term pain it generates. Apparently there are limits beyond which even Democrats are not willing to go in their pursuit of political gain. There are some issues that ought to transcend partisanship and this is one of them.