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6THE THORNY PATH TO RESTORED STRATEGIC TIES WITH THE USË
Last week we dealt with the visit to Ankara by Ambassador Nicholas Burns, United States Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, who told the Atlantic Council before he arrived in Turkey that the “two countries now had a chance to restore a sense of strategic partnership in U.S. - Turkish relations.”
e U.S. - Turkish relations.” We also indicated that Burns' remarks were very much in line with the mood in official circles in Ankara where there is also a growing awareness of the need to do precisely that. We nevertheless referred to the “Damocles' Sword” that the Armenian genocide resolution waiting in the U.S. Congress represented for these relations.
This threat of course remains, and judging by what is emanating from Washington, it should not take too long for us to find out how the situation relating to this resolution plays out.
What we did not mention last week, not due to an oversight, but in order to deal with it this matter this week,” was the issue of the major “thorn in the side” of Turkish-U.S. relations that the Kurdistan Workers' Party's (PKK) presence in northern Iraq has come to represent.
Remarks by the Commander of Land Forces (and Chief of the General Staff to be) General ?lker Ba?bu? earlier this week, at the Turkish War College, were enough to highlight the anger in military circles felt towards the U.S. over this issue.
What General Ba?bu? said, without mincing his word, was direct and not open to misinterpretation. According to the second most important officer in the Turkish Armed Forces, “Turkey may not have the power to influence developments in Iraq, but it can nevertheless make the whole process a costly one” for those concerned.
While he did not name names, Ba?bu? was clearly aiming at the U.S. forces in that country, as well as the Iraqi Kurdish leadership, which the Turkish military accuses of aiding and abetting the PKK with encouragement from the warm relationship it enjoys with Washington.
These remarks not only beg a whole list of questions but also highlight the angry mind frame of the Turkish military at the present time. Taking the cue from General Ba?bu?'s remarks, retired General Arma?an Kulo?lu, who is currently the chief advisor to the Global Strategy Institute based in Ankara, expounded on what making “the whole process costly” means.
What to do?
The following list of ten steps – published in Milliyet yesterday - is what Turkey can (and presumably should) do in this regard according to Kulo?lu, who is a well-known commentator on military matters and who appears frequently on Turkish television.
1- The Turkmen of northern Iraq can be organized (and presumably armed, although he does not say this);
2- The Habur border post between Turkey and northern Iraq can be closed;
3- Turkey can stop the humanitarian and logistical support for U.S. forces in Iraq;
4- Contact can be established with Sunni and Shiite groups in Iraq to stoke further domestic clashes;
5- Resistance groups in Iraq can be supported;
6- Turkey can deny transit rights to U.S. forces withdrawing from Iraq;
7- Turkey can take steps that will negatively affect Washington's Iran policy;
8- Turkey can withdraw its support to the U.S. within the context of NATO in Afghanistan;
9- Turkey can deny training rights to U.S. warplanes in Incirlik;
10- Turkey can recall Turkish companies doing business in northern Iraq.
It is a historic fact that Turkish-American relations are military in essence. There is no overbearing economic involvement as in the case of Turkey's relations with Europe, except in the defense industry area. This means that for the past 50 years the Turkish and U.S. militaries have worked in almost “symbiotic proximity” to each other.
This backdrop alone highlights the dire nature of the remarks by General Ba?bu? and the ideas expressed by retired General Kulo?lu. If relations between the Turkish and American militaries have come to this, then the desire by Ambassador Burns and his civilian counterparts in Ankara “to restore a sense of strategic partnership in U.S. - Turkish relations” is going to take what appears to be a gargantuan effort. Especially since the American side appears to have no real interest in going after the PKK in northern Iraq.
Sometimes all it takes is a small cut somewhere on the body that is not attended to in time to grow septic and harmful, perhaps even destroying the body. We have been saying from day one, and my American friends are aware of this, that the PKK represents precisely such a cut in Turkish-U.S. relations.
This issue was not taken as seriously as it should have been by the American side and the Iraqi Kurds, and is now festering to the extent that senior Turkish military officials are saying, in effect, that they are prepared to make life costly for U.S. forces and their Kurdish allies.
Put another way, the issues that stand on the path of “restored strategic relations” between these two allies of half a century standing are there to behold and will not, judging by appearances, be going away anytime soon. Surely this is bad for both countries.