March 25, 2003

Northern Front Dispatch Tim Judah

Northern Front Dispatch

Tim Judah has a good piece in the NYRB.

On the positive side of the ledger, Judah quotes a Mr. Omar, the leading Kurdish official in the small town of Shoresh (just inside the autonomous Kurdish zone):

"Mr. Omar thinks that not much is going to happen here. That is what the Iraqis across the front line are telling him. According to Mr. Omar, Iraqi officers and ordinary soldiers slip across it several times a week to give him detailed information to pass on to his bosses, and to beg him not to attack when the US-led war begins. He told me: "They are saying they will not fight. They say: 'Just don't attack us, give us time to join you or to escape.'" There have always been contacts between the two sides, he told me, but in the last two months the number of men crossing over to visit him has increased dramatically. He explained that Saddam's men "have a contact who brings them over." They change into civilian clothes and, he said, "they come especially at night."

On another topic, as regular readers know, I've defended a good deal of this Adminstration's diplomatic efforts but have criticized occasional U.S. heavy-handedness in some of our diplomatic efforts (Mexico, Turkey). If this vignette is accurate, it's a prime example of some errors the U.S. made in our approach to Ankara:

"In a largely Muslim country of some 57 million people, well over 90 percent of Turks are opposed to the war and there have been large-scale demonstrations against it. While many in the government and especially in the military believed that Turkey's strategic and economic interests lay in cooperating with the Bush administration, "the Americans," Mr. Dulger complained, had disparaged the Turks as haggling "rug merchants" and "belly-dancers" and had refused to listen to Turkish concerns as a good ally should. In the Foreign Ministry an official told me that when Yashar Yakis, the foreign minister, told President Bush that Turkey had severe problems with the war and with complying with all of America's requests, Mr. Bush brushed him off, saying: "I understand, but now go back to Turkey and do the job." The official thought awhile and said of President Bush: "The man is ill."

Well, I certainly don't think Dubya is ill (perhaps a bit cocksure, occasionally)--but, if true, such an approach was a bit too haughty to take with a Foreign Minister tasked with persuading a government to support an action opposed by approximately 94% of the population. Powell should have flown out to Ankara and done some immediate face to face clean-up after this episode--if indeed it occurred.

That said, the Turks were likely communicating to the Americans that approval of a sizable troop deployment was in the bag--and key interlocuters in Ankara were probably just as stunned as U.S. Administration observers when the parliamentary motion was defeated. Powell and team also likely felt, in the final analysis, that the Army would deliver the Parliament. But with Turkey going through chaotic, historic deliberations over matters they consider of the utmost vitality to their national security (even if many of their fears are exaggerated)--more observers should have been cognizant than anything could happen. And in an environment like that, you don't want the diplomatic wires to get soured because of diktat-like formulations or even the perception that there are Washington whispering campaigns that the Turks are just in it for the cash.

Posted by Gregory at March 25, 2003 12:58 PM
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