The Bush administration’s clumsiness at diplomacy isn’t usually something to rejoice about, as the U. N. Security Council debacle clearly demonstrates. But it does seem to be a blessing for the Kurds. If the U.S. can’t strike a basing deal with the Turks, it won’t be obliged to deliver whatever concessions it’s promised about allowing Turkish troops into Iraqi Kurdistan. And it certainly won’t feel constrained from booting out whatever Turkish troops crash the party.
What the Turkish daily Zaman calls a “harsh letter” from President Bush seems to be backfiring. According to Zaman, the essence of the Bush letter was, “We cannot take it anymore. Speed up the process of the [vote in parliament to allow U.S. troops into Turkey]. Make your air space available.” (Since Chatterbox’s last update, the Turks have stated that they won’t permit U.S. planes to fly over Turkey—something even France will allow.) Zaman’s summary of Ankara’s response: “The formation of the new government will be delayed, and the United Nations’ decision will be awaited.” The first part of that was a bluff, since incoming Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan today announced that he’d formed a new Cabinet. The second part may no longer be relevant, since there may be no Security Council vote at all. But the mutual hostility can’t help the two parties reach agreement. A phone call yesterday from Vice President Dick Cheney doesn’t seem to have patched things up. According to the New York Times, Cheney’s message to Erdogan was, “By the time Turkey got its act together, it would be too late to do us any good.”
Another good sign: Barham Salih, prime minister for the PUK half of Iraqi Kurdistan, has been making diplomatic rounds this week in Washington. If he were getting the runaround, presumably he would return Chatterbox’s multiple phone calls. Since he hasn’t, that likely means he’s getting quiet reassurance that the Bushies won’t sell the Kurds out. Incidentally, an aide to Kosrat Rassul, the PUK’s top military official, was killed last night when a parcel delivered to him exploded. No word yet on who the murderer was, but the Kurdish media’s guess is not Turks, but Ansar al-Islam, the radical fundamentalist group often described as the “bad Kurds.”
Another good sign: In a March 11 briefing, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated pretty bluntly that he wouldn’t tolerate any harassment of the Kurds by Turkish troops:
We just don’t want to see any kind of inter-ethnic or inter-communal conflict and the loss of life because people miscalculate and think that we would not have sufficient forces in the North, if force were to be used, to restore the kind of order that we would, and we would intend to [restore].
At the same briefing, Joint Chiefs chairman Richard Myers said, “The parliamentary vote that denied the U.S. to bring its forces across Turkey was a vote that also prohibited Turkish forces from going outside of Turkey.” That raises the troubling possibility that a vote to allow the United States in would be recognized by Myers as allowing the Turks into Iraqi Kurdistan. Again, though, the chances of that vote happening are looking pretty remote right now.
(Incidentally this was the same briefing, cited in Chatterbox’s previous dispatch, in which Myers said, “We will have a northern option whether or not” Turkey allows U.S. basing. Chatterbox missed the two other quotes because he was working off a news story, not a transcript.)
A final good sign: The pundit class seems finally to be getting exercised about a possible Kurd sellout. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times is going at it like a dog with a bone. (And unlike Chatterbox, he’s actually on the scene.) His column today is especially good. But where are the neocons? The Kurds used to be their second-favorite ethnic group, mainly because they were enemies to Iran and Iraq. Now that the Kurds may be getting in the way of their war, though, the neocons are keeping mum. The only major hawks Chatterbox is aware of who’ve complained lately about U.S. treatment of the Kurds are Slate’s Christopher Hitchens and longtime Kurdophile William Safire, and Safire isn’t waging much of a campaign this time out.