What Ms. Pelosi seems to have missed….
The Wall Street Journal
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Some day, we may look back on this week as a turning point in America’s relations with its closest Muslim ally, Turkey, and perhaps for the entire Middle East. Unfortunately, only a seer can say whether it’ll be a turn for the better.
The ructions over the House’s foray into Ottoman history and Turkey’s threat to invade northern Iraq don’t look good. But clear-eyed leaders will spot an opportunity in this crisis to renew an alliance for this difficult new era. American and Turkish interests overlap, and the countries need each other as much as they did during the Cold War.
The more sober politicians in Washington and Ankara understand this. Wednesday’s parliamentary approval of a possible Turkish incursion to chase down Kurdish terrorists in their Iraqi hideouts was remarkable for its restraint. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan waited more than a week after the latest strike by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (or PKK) killed 13 Turkish soldiers to bring up the measure. No democratic government could ignore such attacks and the growing public outrage.
The Turks have also ruled out any rash move into northern Iraq. Ankara would prefer that the Iraqi Kurds and U.S. squeeze the PKK hiding in the Qandil mountains and avoid the risks of launching its own incursion. The vote this week is a wake-up call from the Turks–not least to the Iraqi Kurds, who have an opening to improve ties with their most important neighbor.
Meanwhile, with uncanny timing, Congressional Democrats this week were about to stick a finger in Turkey’s eye. Whether the massacres of up to 1.5 million Armenians in eastern Anatolia in 1915 constitute “genocide,” as a nonbinding House resolution declares, is a matter for historians. In the here and now, the resolution would erode America’s influence with Ankara and endanger the U.S. effort in Iraq. Worse, Mr. Erdogan’s ability to work with Washington would be constrained by an anti-American backlash.Speaker Nancy Pelosi began the week promising to bring the resolution to the House floor. But she is now having second thoughts–if not out of good sense, then because her rank-and-file are peeling away as they are lobbied against the anti-Turk resolution by the likes of General David Petraeus. Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert tabled a similar resolution when asked by President Clinton in 2000, and we’ll soon see if Ms. Pelosi will do the same for a Republican President.
The PKK also reads the papers, and its leaders timed their attacks on consecutive weekends this month as the resolution moved through the House. The Marxist separatist group, whose 20-year war has claimed almost 40,000 lives, would love to divide the U.S. from Turkey. Unless managed right, the Turkish response this week also imperils improving bilateral ties between Ankara and Baghdad; the countries had only recently signed a counterterrorism pact. In Turkey itself, PKK support is dwindling, and Mr. Erdogan’s ruling party swept the Kurdish-majority areas in July’s elections.
To avoid the trap set by the PKK, the U.S. needs to press the Iraqi Kurds to act against them. This doesn’t have to hurt America’s friendly dealings with the Kurds. But someone has to remind Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s Kurdish region, that the PKK poses a grave threat to the economic boom and stability of northern Iraq. His aggressive rhetoric toward Turkey, and the Kurdish peshmerga militia’s disinterest in cracking down on the PKK, gives the wrong impression of complicity with the terrorists. With typical bluster, Mr. Barzani yesterday said he’d fight the Turks–hardly helpful.
Short of declaring war on the PKK, the peshmerga could easily cut off supply lines of food and arms into the Qandil mountains. The Turks want the U.S. to nab a few big PKK fish, which is easier said than done. But Ankara isn’t unreasonable to expect to see more of an effort. In return, its troops can stay on their side of the border.
This hasn’t been an easy year for Turkey. For most of it, Mr. Erdogan and his neo-Islamist party fought a cold war with the country’s secular establishment, led by the military. His commanding election victory in July ended that political crisis, only to see Congress and the PKK distract anew from his primary task, which is building the Muslim world’s most vibrant free-market democracy.Turkey wants a unitary, stable and prosperous Iraq, and should know that any wrong moves in the north could jeopardize that. The Turks unabashedly support Israel’s right to exist and can’t abide a nuclear Iran. On these and other issues, Ankara is an indispensable partner for America. Mr. Erdogan is expected to meet President Bush next month to discuss Iraqi Kurdistan and probably the Armenian resolution. The U.S.-Turkey friendship is too important to let it be ruined by parochial politics in either country.