TURKEY'S TERROR PROBLEM IS OURS
By Dr. Michael Rubin
Yet, at the same time, the Bush administration -- more precisely, its increasingly assertive State Department -- has embraced an ill-advised diplomatic strategy toward the PKK that will likely backfire on our long-standing NATO ally, and could serve to undermine what is left of President Bush's "global war on terrorism."
With 100,000 Turkish troops amassed alongside the Iraqi frontier, it is understandable that U.S. diplomats want to avert a military crisis. But, rather than take a zero-tolerance policy toward terrorism, the U.S. State Department is counseling Turkey to offer political concessions. On December 13, 2007, for example, State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Dell Dailey said:
The desired political solution seems to be Iraqi Kurdish action to close down the safe haven on Iraqi soil in exchange for a general amnesty law in Turkey to forgive most PKK members and, perhaps, Kurdish-language broadcasting and constitutional reforms as well.
Such a deal at this time would be cockeyed. Turkey has a legitimate grievance against both the PKK and Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani. During its October 21, 2007, attack on Turkish troops, PKK tactics mirrored those taught by U.S. Special Forces to Mr. Barzani's peshmerga fighters, suggesting its complicity in training terrorists. A diplomatic solution should not reward such behavior.
This needn't mean solely a military solution either. Rather, U.S. officials should threaten isolation and a cessation of all financial assistance until Mr. Barzani ceases his safe haven. Confronted with such demands since 2003, Mr. Barzani has always begged for more time, only to let his promises lag when the diplomatic spotlight passed.
It is trendy to seek "root causes" of terror and to discount terrorist ideology. For State Department officials who believe the PKK is just an outgrowth of inequality and discrimination in Turkey, a deal may seem logical. The group's ideology should negate such a compromise. The PKK has its roots in the revolutionary turmoil of the 1970s. Its leader, a university drop-out named Abdullah Ocalan, immersed himself in the Marxism and Maoism fashionable among intellectuals of the day and became a committed revolutionary. Cloaking himself in Kurdish nationalism, Ocalan's first target was not the Turkish military, but rather nonviolent Kurdish civil rights groups.
In August, 1984, the PKK launched an insurgency in southeastern Turkey. Like Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge, it targeted the educated and modern. PKK terrorists executed school teachers for being public servants. PKK gangs burned medical clinics and murdered their staff. Health care collapsed. As al-Qa'ida would do two decades later in Iraq, the PKK destroyed critical infrastructure to drive a wedge between the state and the local population. Before ending in 1997, the PKK campaign claimed 30,000 lives, the majority ethnic Kurds killed by the PKK itself.
The terror campaign ended not with political concession, but coercion: Turkey threatened to expand its military campaign to Syria, which sheltered the PKK. As the Turkish military mobilized along Syria's frontier, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad blinked and ordered the PKK out. Ocalan sought Greek protection. Rather than try to negotiate compromise with a terrorist, U.S. forces took a no-nonsense approach. U.S. (and Israeli) intelligence tipped Ankara off to Ocalan's whereabouts. On February 16, 1999, Turkish Special Forces captured the PKK leader outside the Greek Embassy in Nairobi. Today, Ocalan serves his life sentence time on the prison island of Imrali, but controls his organization through trusted lieutenants.
Every time the PKK finds a safe haven, it renews violence. Iran briefly sheltered PKK fighters after their expulsion from Syria. No sooner had the PKK established camps than it restarted its terrorism. Turkey responded by bombing both PKK targets and Iranian Revolutionary Guards posts around the Iranian town of Piranshahr. While Tehran seldom takes diplomatic demarches or deals seriously, faced with a military red-line, the ayatollahs, too, backed down. No U.S. official, obviously, counseled that Turkey should compromise.
And yet, in the name of diplomacy, the Bush administration now does. The White House validates Mr. Barzani's decision to play the terror card. For the State Department to accept Mr. Barzani's excuse -- that Kurdish solidarity prohibits a crackdown upon the PKK -- is naive. Kurdish solidarity is an oxymoron. Throughout the 1990s, Mr. Barzani fought the group he now protects. His change of heart came after the Turkish Parliament's 2003 decision not to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Overestimating the chill in U.S.-Turkish relations, he took a hard line against Ankara. As Turkey at the time offered amnesty to those rank-and-file PKK members without blood on their hands, Mr. Barzani welcomed the PKK leaders he once fought. Turkish authorities say they have photographs of senior PKK commanders receiving medical treatment in Erbil hospitals and meeting with Barzani associates in nearby restaurants. Last Spring, Mr. Barzani threatened in an al-Arabiya television interview to unleash insurgency inside Turkey.
So, as Mr. Barzani denies complicity in terrorism, he nevertheless seeks to leverage it into diplomatic gain. To link demands for Mr. Barzani to crack down with any Turkish political concession suggests that President Bush has learned nothing from his predecessors' failures. The Bush administration's strategy today mirrors the Clinton administration's approach to late Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat, in which the State Department matched every empty Arafat promise with demands for good-faith concessions from Israel, the constitutional democracy he victimized. While Kurdish officials tell credulous diplomats that the PKK threat would disappear if only Ankara offered greater concessions, the opposite is true: Concessions fuel terror.
Any Turkish compromise prior to a complete disarmament and expulsion of PKK terrorists from northern Iraq could encourage Syria and its Lebanese proxies to demand concessions in exchange for insincere promises to cease terror support. Pakistan, too, may once again leverage its support and safe haven for the Taliban and al-Qa'ida leadership into demands upon both Washington and Kabul.
Turkey has been a poor ally in recent years, but fighting terror requires alliances to trump politics. Every country has the right to defend its citizens from terrorism. Mr. Barzani may give silk carpets to diplomats, provide lavish spreads during their visits and have his praises sung by high-powered Beltway lobbyists, but, so long as he provides the PKK a safe haven, he is a terror enabler. Forcing Turkey to negotiate with the PKK or its intermediaries would only justify its terrorism, and would be no wiser than counseling compromise with Hezbollah, Hamas, or al-Qa'ida.
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Dr. Michael Rubin, a Ph.D. in History (Yale University) and a specialist in Middle Eastern politics, Islamic culture and Islamist ideology, is Editor of the Middle East Quarterly and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Dr Rubin is author of Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami's Iran (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001) and is co-author, with Dr. Patrick Clawson, of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Dr. Rubin served as political advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad (2003-2004); staff advisor on Iran and Iraq in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (2002-2004); visiting lecturer in the Departments of History and International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2001-2002); visiting lecturer at the Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan (2000-2001); Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1999-2000); and visiting lecturer in the Department of History at Yale University (1999-2000). He has been a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Leonard Davis Institute at Hebrew University, and the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.
The foregoing article by Dr. Rubin was originally published in the Wall Street Journal, December 18, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat.
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