William Safire is not a smart man

Here he is, wondering why those pesky Kurds don’t want Turkish troops in Iraq:

My old buddies the Kurds, a long-mistreated people we freed from Saddam, are now looking a gift horse in the mouth. I hope somebody explains that American expression about shortsighted suspicion to a key leader, Massoud Barzani.

But here come Iraqi Arabs, using the Kurdish leader Barzani as their wedge to evoke faded memories of the Ottoman Empire and to look the Turkish gift horse in the mouth.

Neighbors stay out, say members of the Governing Council, showing premature independence to curry voters’ favor. Understandably, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, responds: unless invited by Iraqis, Turks will not come.

Bremer should tell recalcitrant Kurds that they are again being used as pawns in an Arab power play, and that they should welcome a guaranteed temporary Turkish presence in non-Kurdish areas of Iraq.

Yes, it must be their recalcitrance. I mean, I don’t suppose this has anything to do with it:

In a thirteen-year-long conflict with the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkish security forces established a reputation for systematic torture and extrajudicial killing. When Turkish police, gendarmes, or soldiers had difficulty in distinguishing between rural civilian populations and armed insurgents, they drove the peasantry off their land and burned down thousands of settlements to create free-fire zones in the countryside. Soldiers torched villagers’ homes, destroyed their crops and orchards, and machine-gunned their livestock. No official record was kept of these operations or the destruction wrought in the course of them, and no compensation was paid. Even by official figures, widely considered to be a serious underestimate, 380,000 people lost their homes. Most of the displaced are now living in poverty in the metropolitan areas of the country. Government return programs are a sham, without sufficient funding or political will to regenerate the fragile peasant economy. This pattern of violations has been corroborated by judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, which found Turkish security forces responsible for torturing, killing, and “disappearing” Kurdish villagers and burning them out of their homes.

Who wouldn’t want these guys in Iraq? And surely Iraqi Kurds in particular should greatly desire their deployment. Such is how the world looks to Nixon’s former speech-writer 1.

The understandable opposition of the Kurds, as well as the suspicions held by many other Iraqis 2 has led the Iraqi Governing Council to unanimously oppose the troop deployment. The Turkish Government has said that it will not dispatch the troops while this opposition continues. It’s been reported that even Paul Bremer is against it. It is, in short, unlikely to happen any time soon, which is great news.

All of which makes Safire’s comments about Kurdish insubordination very strange indeed. Another odd thing about Safire’s column is his attempt to assert a some-of-my-best-friends-are-Kurdish type relationship with his “old buddies” 3. Someone else who sometimes engages in this practice is Christopher Hitchens, although unlike William Safire, Hitchens has a fantastic, largely justified, animosity towards Turkey that, I suspect, would preclude him from supporting Turkish troops in Iraq.

As a leftist, or former leftist, you would think that Hitchens has some familiarity with the distinction between hating the American people 4, and hating particular actions of the American government 5. Yet for some reason he abandons such distinctions with respect to Turkey. Last year, he gave this explanation for Turkish opposition to war in Iraq:

The Turks are hostile to the idea 6 because it would almost inevitably extend the area of Iraqi Kurdistan that is currently ruled by its own inhabitants, who abut the restive Kurdish zone of Turkey.

He made the same point during a recent exchange of letters with Norman Finkelstein:

Finkelstein’s willingness to take Turkish opinion at its face value is incidentally one of the many deformities of his piece: Turkey disliked regime change in Iraq because it feared the growing power of Iraqi Kurdish autonomy.

In other words, Turkish opposition to the war was all about continuing the suppression of the Kurds. Note that this is a theory which purports to explain the opinions of people, not government. As such, there are a couple of problems with it. For one, it supposes that in late February 2003, some 90% of Turkish people thought it would be fun to think like Machiavelli. And since about 20% of Turkey’s population is Kurdish, 90% opposition to war means that on Hitchens’ theory, at least 50% of Turkish Kurds opposed autonomy for Iraqi Kurds, which would be unexpected. But the current issue relating to Turkey must surely be the final blow for Hitchens’ argument. The troop deployment plan is understood by virtually everyone 7 as an attempt by the Turkish government to assert control over the Iraqi Kurds. Yet polls suggest 70% of Turkey remains opposed to involvement.

For no particular reason, here is a map of the Russian Far East.

  1. speaking of, Safire’s best effort would have to be “In Event of Moon Disaster[]
  2. who apparently “fear the coming of a second Ottoman Empire[]
  3. whom, incidentally, Nixon screwed[]
  4. bad[]
  5. good, or at least justifiable[]
  6. of regime change[]
  7. William Safire excluded[]
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2024 years ago

Hmm I think you got your numbers mixed up, if 90% of x are in group A, and 20% of x is in group B, then at least half of all x in B are also in group A.

2024 years ago

And let’s not forget that only a couple of months ago the Yanks detained a group of Turkish special forces troops who had entered Northern Iraq with the alleged goal of assasinating some Kurdish political figures.

After a couple of days, they were sent back to Turkey.

2024 years ago

Hmm I think you got your numbers mixed up, if 90% of x are in group A, and 20% of x is in group B, then at least half of all x in B are also in group A.

corrected. thanks.