The Bush administration, having sold out the Kurds in the first, failed negotiations with the Turks, stood solidly behind them in the second. We’d like permission to fly over Turkey, the Bushies said and, less urgently, to use bases in Turkey to launch a ground invasion of Iraq from the north. But, they added this time, we will not let you put Turkish troops inIraqi Kurdistan. It was an impressive, if belated, display of spine.
But the Turkish troops are coming anyway. Turkey’s parliament today voted, 332-202, to deploy Turkish troops “abroad,” i.e., into the Kurdish zone in Iraq. The same vote approved overflights by the U.S. military and its allies. (Basing rights for U.S. troops are still withheld.) If the Turks follow through with actual deployment, fighting between the Kurds and the Turks is extremely likely. The United States has threatened to take the Kurds’ side against a Turkish incursion and, at the same time, has promised the Turks to keep the Kurds out of the city of Kirkuk, which lies south of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurds claim Kirkuk as their “Jerusalem,” and, more to the point, Kirkuk sits atop an estimated 10 billion barrels of oil. There’s only one way to resolve this. As Gareth Evans and Joost Hiltermann point out in the March 20 International Herald-Tribune, “It is imperative that U.S. forces get to Kirkuk fast—before the Turks and before Kurdish forces.” That is, in fact, the U.S. military’s plan. (Incidentally, the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit crisis-resolution organization where Evans and Hiltermann work, just released a judicious and informative report on the current crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan.)
If the Turks invade, there’s some danger that the Iranians will invade, too. Robert Novak has a terrifying column today suggesting that Turkey and Iran have already agreed to divvy up the Kurds’ territory in Iraq. Like a lot of Novak columns, this one, on close inspection, turns out to be entirely speculative. In this instance, the speculation is largely secondhand and derived from Stratfor, a private intelligence firm that recently informed its clients that Gulf War II would start by March 15 at the latest. (It actually started on March 19.) Still, the scenario is a plausible one, making it conceivable that Gulf War II will pit the United States against two-thirds of Bush’s “axis of evil.”
Chatterbox observed recently that during the past few weeks, neoconservatives, who profess to revere the Kurds, have been largely silent about them. The reason, Chatterbox guessed, is that the Kurds are introducing unwelcome difficulties to a war that’s very dear to the neocon heart. Now conservative hawks have launched a trial balloon affirmatively condemning the Kurds as thugs. Talk about a sellout! The argument is made by Melik Kaylan on the editorial page of the March 19 Wall Street Journal. (Unfortunately, it isn’t available on OpinionJournal, the edit page’s free Web site.) In response to accusations “among Western mea-culpa circles to the tune of ‘I tell you, in the end, we will betray the Kurds again,’ ” Kaylan answers that we’ll all soon discover
that the natives were never ready for primetime. The Kurds are certainly in for a let-down if their brave new autonomous zone comes under proper scrutiny. The idyllic statelet-in-waiting we keep reading about is a venue for well-oiled warlordism. Telephone calls are monitored. Armed checkpoints pepper the roads. Property is easily confiscated. Loyalties are bought and sold by the tribeful. Rights don’t exist except when forcibly backed by fellow tribesmen. … I’ve learned the last thing local leaders want, or intend to employ, is democracy and the rule of law.
Kaylan is on the scene, whereas Chatterbox is not. Consequently, Chatterbox would ordinarily grant Kaylan considerable deference. But Kaylan completely ignores the demonstrable facts that Iraqi Kurdistan enjoys a free press and has held an election that passed muster with independent observers—not something you can say about almost any other part of the Middle East. You’d think Kaylan would want at least to refute these points. That he doesn’t arouses suspicion. Chatterbox’s confidence in Kaylan’s judgment was further undermined when he remembered an earlier Journal op-ed in which Kaylan argued for a tax cut on the grounds that America needed to nurture and expand an aristocracy that lived entirely on inherited wealth. (Chatterbox answered Kaylan here, here, and here.) Is Kaylan the Journal editorial page’s designated crash dummy, sent out again and again to test the viability of outrageous new doctrines? Chatterbox is beginning to think so.
[Update, 2:12 p.m.: Chatterbox has been assuming the Bushies really haven’t sold out the Kurds this time out. For the moment, he continues to assume that. But he does wonder about White House spokesman Ari Fleischer’s reticence today in response to a question about whether Turkish troops are “working with” the United States in Iraqi Kurdistan. “I have nothing for you,” Fleischer replied. Gulp. Two days ago, Fleischer answered a similar question by stating, “Our position on this, and this has been made clear to the government of Turkey, is that no outside forces other than those under coalition command should enter Iraq.” At the time, Chatterbox took Fleischer to mean that Turkey was told to butt out. Is it possible the United States has quietly put Turkish troops under U.S. command in exchange for the right to fly over Turkey? That wouldn’t be as bad as letting the Turkish troops into Iraqi Kurdistan under their own command. But it would still be a lot to give up for the overflights. And Chatterbox doesn’t want to think about what would happen should a Kurdish unit under U.S. command encounter a Turkish unit under U.S. command.
[Update, March 21: Ari Fleischer yesterday refused to say whether Turkish troops would enter Iraqi Kurdistan under U.S. command. Now Chatterbox thinks he knows why: Apparently the vote in Turkey’s parliament approving overflights by the U.S. and its allies didn’t entirely settle the matter. According to the Washington Post’s Web site, Turkey is holding up the overflights and demanding that the U.S. approve the entry of Turkish troops into Iraqi Kurdistan. The Turkish daily Zaman reports Turkish officials have assured the U.S. that Turkish troops will go in only if the Kurds seize unspecified “oil-rich areas” (presumably, they mainly mean Kirkuk), or if the Kurds harass the Turkmen minority, or if the boundary of Turkey’s secure zone (which presumably extends beyond Turkey’s southern border) is crossed by Kurdish troops or refugees. But all those “ifs” give the Turks ample opportunity to send troops in. Meanwhile, the Kurdish press is reporting that Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Şahin said yesterday on Turkish TV, unequivocally, that Turkey will send its troops in.]