Letter to the Editor
Ms. Zeyno Baran's March 12, 2003 article in In the National Interest, titled "Turkish Bravado versus American Bullying: A Clash of Civilizations?" gives an interesting and revealing Turkish perspective on the U.S. request to use bases in Turkey for U.S. troops to open a northern front against Iraq. It reveals a Turkish belief that Turkey is vital for U.S. interests in the area, that the U.S. needed Turkey in the event of war with Iraq, and that Turkey could extract even more benefits from the U.S. and a political commitment on what a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq would be like, particularly regarding Turkey's prime concern, the Iraqi Kurds.
From an American perspective, Turkey's actions are more than what a senior Bush administration official called "extortion in the name of alliance." They demonstrated that Turkey is an unreliable ally for U.S. interests in the region. They also revealed a lack of understanding of the U.S. military's capability to have a northern front without Turkey's help. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard B. Meyers, General Tommy R. Franks, who heads the U.S. forces in the Gulf, and Army Lt. General David D. McKiernan, the U.S. ground commander in the Gulf, all stated there will be a northern front without Turkey's help. Plan B presented to President Bush on March 5, 2003 by General Franks was General Franks' initial war plan. It envisioned an offensive launched from Kuwait, with lighter forces from there swooping into northern Iraq to safeguard the oil fields, which is precisely what is happening now.
Ms. Baran is in serious error when she states that a war in Iraq "would be longer and costlier" without Turkey. She has no evidence to support such an assertion. The war will certainly not be costlier from a financial viewpoint as the United States will not be sending billions of dollars to Turkey. And there is no evidence that it would be costlier in U.S. casualties or that the war would be prolonged as a result.
The Turkish parliament stood up for more than what Ms. Baran characterized as "Turkish honor." The Turkish people hailed the parliament vote as a victory for democracy, which it was. It sends a signal to the Turkish military that the Turkish people want a real democracy. Two leading and nationally syndicated columnists oppose any U.S. effort for a second vote by the Turkish parliament. The New York Times' Thomas L. Friedman wrote on March 5, 2003: "It would be shameful for us to force the Turks to vote again." The Washington Post's Jim Hoagland concurred; the next day, he wrote: "The Turkish imbroglio illustrates the moment of change that is upon us: This is no time for President Bush's diplomats to try to pressure or seduce Ankara into changing the vote, or for recriminations or reprisals to fly. It is time to move on, to let Turkey's politicians stew in the consequences of their act, and for Washington to be crystal clear with Turkey's senior generals that they would pay a huge price for staging a unilateral intervention in northern Iraq when war begins."
Many Americans, not just those of Armenian, Greek and Kurdish heritage, were dismayed that the U.S. was submitting to Turkish "extortion." Members of Congress and commentators have referred to Turkey's actions as extortion, blackmail, bribery and shakedown--while pointing out that U.S. compliance would be fiscally irresponsible. The United States in its own self-interest and self-respect should not be trying to buy Turkish cooperation-- for $32 billion, at $26 billion, at $15 billion, at $1 million or at one cent.
Ms. Baran's omissions are also interesting and revealing. Turkey wants "guarantees" for the Turkmen minority, guarantees that Turkey has been unwilling to extend to its own minorities. It is also not clear what threat Turkey faces from the Kurds of Northern Iraq that would require a "buffer zone", just as it is not clear why the Turkish military must continue to occupy 37.3 percent of Cyprus (and whose continued support torpedoed any hope of a political settlement for reunifying the island prior to its accession to the European Union).
The Iraqi Kurds are an important element in the event of war with Iraq and a key element in building a post-war democratic Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds have developed self-government in the northern Iraq no-fly zone that will be most helpful in the effort to develop democratic institutions in a post-war Iraq. They also have a military force estimated at 100,000 troops. Yet, they have made it clear that they strongly oppose any Turkish troops invading northern Iraq. One can only conclude that Turkey's purpose is not to disarm and get rid of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and build democratic institutions in Iraq, but to suppress the Iraqi Kurds and gain access to Iraqi oil.
Ms. Baran's perspective is similar to positions expressed by the Turkish military, whose long-term commitment to democracy has yet to be established. She fails to discuss the military's controlling role in foreign and national security policy under the Turkish constitution and decisive role in domestic affairs. No mention is made of the Turkish military's vast business holdings or of the "tens of billions of dollars" in a military-owned cash fund. The Turkish military is the primary cause of Turkey's economic and political problems. There will be no EU membership until the Turkish military returns to the barracks, gives full human rights to the Kurds, withdraws from Cyprus, and sells its vast business holdings with the proceeds going to reduce Turkey's huge debt, including the $5 billion it already owes the United States.