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The Boston Globe

For Turkey, the War Is Real

Here in Turkey, Condoleezza Rice offered sage advice to Turkish leaders ahead of the Washington meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan. "Effective action means action that can deal with the threat," she said Friday, but won't "make the situation worse." The Turkish military, with a deployed force of up to 100,000 soldiers, is poised to attack positions of militant Kurdish separatist fighters in the Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq. Their cross-border forays into Turkey over the last five weeks have killed dozens of Turks, both soldiers and civilians. Iraqi Kurds tacitly support their fellow Kurds, and Americans have done nothing to dissuade either group. Erdogan is under enormous pressure to respond to such attacks, but Rice highlighted "the need to look for an effective strategy, not just one that's going to strike out, somehow, and not deal with the problem."

As viewed from Turkey, American responses throughout this crisis range from duplicity to double standards. The cautionary message that Rice conveyed to her foreign ministry counterparts here, and that Bush is expected to echo, defines the exact opposite of policies pursued to this day by the Bush administration itself. The conditions that created the terrible prospect facing Turkey - an immediate war with rebel Kurds based in Iraq -- have been wholly manufactured in Washington, which displays an unending capacity to "make the situation worse." Turkey, a staunch US ally, urged restraint four-and-a-half years ago when Bush rolled his dice in Iraq. But when the gamble was lost, it was nations in the Middle East - not America - that paid. Turkey's turn to pony up has come.

The mood here is somber because when war begins, it will be real. Turks understand that the United States, thousands of miles away, is only virtually at war. US soldiers are killing and being killed, to be sure. Yet the main result of their presence as an occupation force has been to ignite and sustain a set of civil wars - now including Turkey's - that have nothing to do with America. Indeed, despite the neo-con rhetoric of "fight them there instead of here," the US occupation of Iraq defends against no direct threat to America. As Saddam's weapons of mass destruction were a paranoid myth, so is the much-hyped dread of "Islamofascism," a phenomenon that, if it did exist, would threaten Islamic peoples and values far more than anything in the West. The problem, of course, is that militant Islamic extremists, however defined, are empowered by the US occupation, not disarmed. Iraq has become a West Point for suicide bombers. Even then, the threat remains local. And although all the belligerents target the American occupiers, and will do so as long as the occupation continues, America has no authentic enemy among Iraq's sectarian belligerents. Turkey does.


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In the United States, meanwhile, confusion reigns. After effectively voting against the Iraq occupation last November; after denouncing it in successive polls; after seeing the Bush administration reject its own review panel's call for a shift to diplomacy; after the touted "surge" led to more of the same; after the shock of current oil prices made the real Bush agenda in Iraq plainer ever; and after Dick Cheney and George Bush made the mad prospect of attack on Iran seem possible - the American public has sunk into a dispirited, and perhaps guilt-induced, detachment from the entire mess. (Again last week, Congressional Democrats, debating appropriations, dared look the Pentagon in the eye - and promptly blinked.) No such detachment is possible here in Turkey.

Before Bush's war changed everything in this region, Turkish hopes were high. An expansive European Union beckoned. Turks were poised to play a historic role as the bridge between Islam and the West. But then they found that, in the "us against them" war on terror, no such bridge was wanted. Europe got nervous about Turks already in its cities, and lately European countries have taken actions Turkey regards as friendly to the Kurdish rebels it is fighting. Now come warnings that, if Turkey responds to its made-in-Washington terror threat exactly as Washington does - "to strike out, somehow" - then Turkey can kiss EU admission goodbye.

The question is sharper here than at home: How much higher can the rubble pile of Bush's wreckage mount before Americans emerge from the stupor of shame to stop him?

James Carroll

James Carroll

James Carroll, a TomDispatch regular and former Boston Globe columnist, is the author of 20 books, including the new novel The Cloister (Doubleday). Among other works are: House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power and Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age. His memoir, An American Requiem, won the National Book Award. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He lives in Boston with his wife, the writer Alexandra Marshall.


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