A Missed Moment In Iraq
The Bush administration has only itself to blame for the quandary it faces with Turkish forces poised to intervene in northern Iraq. The Turks want to retaliate against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), whose insurgents killed 12 Turkish soldiers Sunday. A massive retaliation would be a major misfortune for Turkey, Iraq and the United States.A missed opportunity
First, it would undermine the stability of the only part of Iraq where the United States is welcome. Second, it could plunge Turkey into an Iraq quagmire of its own.
Sadly, this crisis was predictable and predicted. U.S. officials have long known that a Turkish incursion was just one terrorist event away. As tensions mounted, the administration had numerous opportunities to engage in preventive diplomacy. A combination of lack of imagination, incompetence and sheer lack of knowledge at the State Department has caused this impasse. To make matters worse, on Tuesday the department tried to shift the blame to the Iraqi Kurds, expressing unhappiness over their inaction.
The irony is that both Iraqi Kurds and the AKP government directly or indirectly signaled the Bush administration that they were interested in a deal. I know that senior Iraqi Kurds have forwarded ideas to U.S. officials. The AKP, on the other hand, sought to test the waters first by sending its intelligence chief two years ago to talk to the Kurds -- something the government is loath to do officially -- and by organizing a private meeting this year between the Kurdish Regional Government's prime minister, Nechirvan Barzani, and then-Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. The chief of the Turkish general staff, Yasar Buyukanit, who in a fiery speech warned the government not to talk to the KRG, scuttled Gul's meeting.Of course we are dealing with a State Department headed by Condoleezza Rice - the most incompetent National Security advisor in history who became the most incompetent Secretary of State in history. She has zero respect and credibility in the world so don't expect this or any other "diplomatic" efforts to be successful until 2009.
The Bush administration missed an opportunity when it failed to see and support the desire for such dialogue and use its good offices to construct a "grand bargain" between the Iraqi Kurds and Ankara. At minimum, such a bargain would have required the Iraqi Kurds to dislodge the PKK from Iraq and for the Turks to offer guarantees on trade and security to the Iraqi Kurds.
For the United States, this would have meant the consolidation of northern Iraq; paradoxically, a Kurdish north at peace with Turkey is the best antidote to separation from Iraq. In short, this would have been a winning situation for all.
The best the administration can hope for now is to persuade the Turks to engage in a limited cross-border military operation. That might contain public anger and assuage a vitriolic press.
The only other thing to hope for is bad weather. With the onset of winter and dwindling military activities, Washington will perhaps have the diplomatic window of opportunity it almost closed. Three years late, it will be much harder to succeed.
(Cross posted at OOIBC)