Here’s the question Chatterbox would most like somebody to ask President Bush at tonight’s scheduled press conference:
“Mr. President, what precisely have you offered the Turks (besides money) in exchange for allowing U.S. troops to invade Iraq from their country? Specifically: How many Turkish troops have you said you’d allow into northern Iraq—over the strong objections of Iraqi Kurds—and how far would you let those Turkish troops go? If the Turks refuse to leave northern Iraq after the war is over, how do you propose to make them leave? Is our support for an autonomous Kurd enclave within Iraq at all negotiable? If not, can you reaffirm it now?”
It’s a little wordy, but White House reporters like to ask long questions so their mothers can get a good look at them on television. Even if Bush doesn’t answer the “what have you promised” part, he’d probably reaffirm in some way U.S. support for Iraqi Kurds. What Chatterbox would like to know is how emphatic Bush is willing to be right now in expressing that support. The Pentagon and the State Department continue to pack a tight suitcase.
It’s possible that Bush would say that the United States has given up on basing its troops in Turkey. Deep inside a Pentagon-readies-for-battle story in the March 6 New York Times, Eric Schmitt has a “senior American military official” saying: “We’re beyond that now. We’re at Plan B.” That view may have hardened now that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s de facto leader, is reportedly saying he wants to put off a second parliamentary vote until after the U.N. Security Council weighs in. It’s also possible, though, that Schmitt’s senior American military official is merely trying to bluff the Turks into quicker action.
There are some signs that the Turks are moving, albeit slowly, toward allowing U.S. troops in. The chief of the Turkish general staff, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, is nudging the Turkish parliament to vote a second time on the issue. That’s no small matter in a country where the military seizes control of the government every few years. (According to Agence France-Presse, Ozkok also warned that Iraqi Kurds must be mindful “of our legitimate right to defend our national interests” or else “bear the consequences.”) Also, the Turkish newspaper Zaman reports that the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, Robert Pearson, dropped in on Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul on March 4 to discuss “Turkey’s benefits in northern Iraq and the importance of Turkish-U.S. economic cooperation.” Meanwhile, the Kurdish press reports that a 40-vehicle Turkish military convoy just entered Iraqi Kurdistan. For details on how brutally the Turkish military has treated Iraqi Kurds before, see this newly released report from Human Rights Watch.
Tensions between Kurds and Turks are fairly high. In Ankara, somebody tossed a Molotov cocktail yesterday into the offices of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, apparently to avenge the burning of the Turkish flag at a demonstration in Kurdistan earlier this week. (No one was hurt.) Peter Galbraith, a professor of national security studies at the National War College and a longtime Kurd-watcher, told Chatterbox that a prominent Kurdish leader told him that if the Turks come in, the Kurds will invite the Iranians in, too, and let the two nations slug it out.
Care to share any thoughts about what you plan to do about that, Mr. President?
[Update, 7:30 p.m.: Nobody asked Chatterbox’s question.]