The Iraq war is springing leaks faster than its spin doctors can patch them up. The most recent disaster is nearly 100 years in the making, with Turkey massing 100,000 troops on the border with Kurdish northern Iraq, erasing whatever gains might have been reaped from the recent drop-off in casualties.
And so it has come to this: The U.S., erstwhile occupier of post-Saddam Mesopotamia, is now working furiously to avoid a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq, where guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) have been launching attacks into southeast Turkey.
The hypocrisy here is astounding. The PKK's provocations are much more serious than anything that Lebanon-based Hezbullah did to Israel in the summer of 2006, and the Kurdish threat to Turkish territorial sovereignty is much more real than any Lebanese threat to Israel. Recent PKK attacks took the lives of more than a dozen Turkish soldiers, and there is obviously cross-border cooperation between Kurdish separatists in Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq.
Yet not one person in the U.S. government lifted a finger to stop the Israeli bombardment and invasion of Lebanon last summer. In fact, the vast majority of the American political class looked on with thinly disguised glee as the Israelis laid waste to Lebanon's infrastructure and sent its fragile democratic government into a prolonged crisis from which it has yet to emerge.
This is why ordinary people in the region roll their eyes when anyone from the U.S. government babbles on about good and evil and fighting terror. The U.S. has its own ideas about who is good and who is evil, and which causes are legitimate. And for whatever reason, Kurdish terrorist groups are just not considered as serious a threat to international peace and public order as Arab terrorist groups.
The reality is that the creation of a self-governing Kurdish region in Iraq was bound to cause tension with neighboring countries. The creation of a self-governing Kurdistan — despite the anger it might have caused in the Arab world — was one of the few genuinely decent things to come out of the Iraq war and was a rare case of a historical wrong being set at least partially right.
In most ways, the current Kurdish-Turkish mess was not created by the U.S. invasion of Iraq — the plight of the Kurds and the century-long denial of their legitimate national aspirations is an aching tragedy whose responsibility can be laid at the feet of a number of colonial powers and post-colonial dictatorships. And sooner or later, the question of Kurdish sovereignty was bound to rip the region apart.
But the U.S. bears full responsibility right now for keeping the peace between its two allies. The Bush administration has been a diplomatic embarrassment from the very start, and another failure here could have disastrous consequences for a country that is already one crisis away from total chaos.
Both the Kurdish and Hezbollah crises are rooted in the refusal of powerful U.S. allies to negotiate with the weak. In Israel, an arrogant and smug government has spurned all serious dealings with its neighbors for the past seven years. And in Turkey, the racist central government's decades-long denial of Kurdish rights and desires has yielded a predictably bitter stew of terrorism, separatism and hatred. As with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the solution to the current crisis between Turkey, Iraq and the U.S. is diplomatic and political. What is less clear is whether the men running these three countries have the smarts to avert a catastrophe. Speaking for the American contingent, I'd say probably not.
David Faris is a frequent Slant contributor.