The Future of Kurdistan

No single topic had me more concerned in the run-up to war in Iraq than the future of Kurdistan. At the time it was unimaginable that a scenario would present itself in the aftermath of Iraq where we would go to war with Iran. But the possibility of a regional war involving Kurdistan, Turkey, Iraq/US and possibly Syria seemed real. I never got the feeling the Bush administration paid very close attention to the intricacies of our policy regarding Kurdistan and Turkey and the PKK, nor did I have any comfort they would be able to manage the careful balancing act it would take to keep such a delicate, triangular relationship calm. (And that even before we all realized just how incompetent the Bush administration really is.)

Today Karen DeYoung writes in the Washington Post about how the Turkey-Kurdistan-Iraq/US situation is faring. In a word: poorly.

First, no one really knows who is handling the Turkey-PKK-Kurdistan brief:

"Turkey belongs to Eucom, and Iraq belongs to Centcom," said one senior administration official, referring to two of the six U.S. regional commands that divide the world along what the military calls "seams." Similarly, Turkey falls under the State Department's Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, and Iraq belongs to the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. "Where you sit is where you stand" in terms of assigning blame and finding solutions to the conflict, the official said.

Weren't these issues of bureaucratic buck-passing 'sposed to have been eradicated by Rummy? Didn't we enter a new era of intel-diplomatic-military cooperation after 9/11?

What makes the situation worse is that at least 600 people died as a result of Kurdish rebel attacks in Turkey last year. At least the Pentagon and State agree that this is bad:

"We've got a policy -- a terrorist is a terrorist. If they're attacking our NATO ally, we're obligated" to defend it or let it defend itself.

What about MEK, then? But I digress.

It occurs to me that the reason this is coming up is that Turkey is in an electoral season, and democratic politics in Islamic countries are always interesting. The form of democracy is identical to ours but the substance is often quite different, much like Japan's democracy differs from ours as well. To the point: the Islamists and secularists in Turkey do agree on some things that don't bode well for the US:

The threat posed by the PKK and a growing dislike of the United States are among the few issues on which secular and Islamic Turkey agree. In a shift over the past several years, only about 12 percent of the population views the United States favorably, according to recent opinion polls. "The real question here," another administration official said, "is how to keep 70 million Turks allied to the West."

Of course, the administration's adroitness with diplomacy has made the situation better:

when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the White House in 2004 and last year, Bush rejected his requests for U.S. military assistance on the border because U.S. "assets" in Iraq were busy elsewhere.

You'd think they could have come up with a more diplomatic solution, no?

The bottom line is that we've gotten ourselves in quite a pickle here trying to balance our alliance with Turkey and our support for the sole bright spot and success in Iraq: Kurdistan. This isn't about choosing the best ally or even managing an outcome that is the least worst of our options. We have one option: to manage an inherently unstable situation much as Bismarck managed the German's Russo-Austrian problem via the Reinsurance Treaty.

Then again, that was Bismarck and Bush as we have learned, is no Bismarck when it comes to diplomacy.