Thursday, August 01, 2002

To war or not to war

Sullivan, Welch, Offerings (and others) are chewing over the issue of public support for going to war with Iraq. Sullivan dug up a Washington Post reference to a poll which says 60% of Americans approve of a war on Iraq. Yikes, are the folks back home really that hungry for war? Welch wisely points out that we don't know how the question was phrased.

An earlier Offerings post mulls the question of whether the Bush administration, which is apparently working hard to dig up evidence to link Iraq and 9/11, will seek Congressional approval for attacking Iraq. Mr. Offerings seems to be on a big Constitutionality kick lately. (When was the last time the US legally declared war on a country before attacking it? WWII?)

The common wisdom seems to be that the Bushies can expect a popularity boost if and when they do go to war, and if they time it right it will get the administration another 4 years, and polls like the one from Newsweek add to that impression. But this all seems to assume a quick, painless victory with no aftertaste. Is that a wise assumption?

The Gulf War left behind the impression of just that type of war, and Kosovo and Afghanistan have reinforced. But the easiness of the Gulf War victory is deceptive: if you look back at the pre-ground forces operation, we had a massive buildup, not just of military forces, but also of public expectations. We thought we were headed for another Vietnam, we were emotionally geared up for a major conflict. In the end, we never really invaded Iraq proper, we just pounded on Iraqi troops in the desert. We didn't go into the ground in populated areas, there was no urban combat.

Kosovo was luck. Clinton fully expected Milosovec to fold after we bombed Kosovo, if we had needed to go in on the ground we would have been massively embarrassed. When bombing was shifted to Serbia itself the Serbs eventually did fold. Whew!

Afghanistan, let's remember, used local troops to do the heavy lifting of overthrowing the Taliban.

So maybe Iraq will be similar. It's no Vietnam - the people don't seem to be all that attached to Saddam, and we've starved them long enough that they probably will be relieved to get out of the doghouse. But the Pentagon is saying they'll need 500,000 troops, and the people of Iraq don't necessarily think Americans mean them well - the embargo combined with Saddam's propaganda hasn't done a lot to persuade them that Americans are out to help their Arab, Muslim selves.

Will popular support survive a war, especially if it's longer and messier than we expect? What about post-war occupation and "nation-building"? We've gotten other people to do the hard, icky work of nation-building in Afghanistan, but the work there has been largely confined to Kabul, not a big place.

Iraq is a big place, it's going to require more than a few thousand troops. Persuading other countries to do the job for America is going to be tough, especially the invasion is launched without broad, strong international support. If we insist on making a big mess against the advice of our allies, how can we expect them to clean it up for us?

Turkey would help with peacekeeping, but it's going to cost a lot, especially if it takes a while. Hiring foreign mercenaries has its risks. (Hell, both the Arabs and the Byzantines brought the Turks into their regions as mercenaries, and both were supplanted by them.)

Anyone who wanted to disrupt a post-war Iraq which depended too much on Turkey's involvement could much things up very, very easily: just get the Kurds riled up - supply weapons and propaganda to the Kurds back here in Turkey, and see how popular it is to have the military distracted in Iraq. Who would do such a thing? Are there any counties which dislike Turkey, America, and for that matter Iraq, and has a history of supplying weapons abroad? Anybody which borders both Turkey and Iraq, has domestic Kurds of its own?

Anybody still wondering why Turkish folks aren't all that thrilled with the idea of war in the neighborhood? I'm not convinced a few billion bucks would really make it worthwhile.

Turkey and Southern (US) states: compare and contrast

Krugman of the NY Times compares the American state of Tennessee to a third world country, saying:

The only reason Tennessee doesn't look like Argentina right now is that it isn't a sovereign nation; since the federal budget was in good shape until recently, there's a safety net.

Having lived for many years in a Southern US state and since moved to Turkey, I've often thought that Turkey is very much like one of those states, without the benefit of being a part of a larger federal nation. This comparison rings true whether looking at the political and economic characteristics or at the individual, social level. To put it crudely, Turks don't seem all that different from Southern hillbillies.

That sounds insulting to both Americans and Turks, but it isn't really. Southerners and Turks are reknowned for their generous hospitality as well as for racism, bad cops, and regressive religion. Just as some people's views of Turkey are formed by Midnight Run (a film which took some very creative liberties with the real life story it was based on, without which the movie would have been short and not very interesting), I know Europeans who are afraid to visit places like Georgia because they've seen Deliverance.

The biggest differences to my mind are that, unlike Turkey, people from states like Tennessee can easily interact with other places in the country. Imagine if someone from Tennessee had to be wealthy or very lucky to attend a university in a different state, and that the faculty of local universities were almost exclusively born and educated in Tennessee.

There's a lot wrong with Turkey structurally, in terms of government and bureaucracy, which perpetuate the country's situation. But the best way to improve this is to improve the exposure of Turks to different societies, and to better education. Maybe joining the EU wouldn't be such a bad thing after all, in the long run.

Federal government has certainly improved life in Southern states. Also imagine Tennessee never had TVA to bring electricity to rural homes, that there was no federal funding for insterstate highways, if the judicial system was completely unexposed and uninvolved with the federal system.

It isn't unreasonable to assume that if borders between American states were as firm as those between nations, anyone from Tennessee would have to show copies of their bank statements and other proof that they didn't want to immigrate if they wanted to visit friends in New York. Someone with a degree in Economics or Political Science from the University of Tennessee might have great difficulty getting into California to work, and even then would only be able to get work at places like McDonalds, or as a household servant.

Turkish Parliament still wrangling over elections

The Oxford Business Group has a decent summary of the current state of the endless Turkish election saga. It's amazing how long it's taking just to agree what everyone already knows is going to happen, elections on November 3. Actually, as big an issue is reforms for the EU, namely passing two amendments to the constitution. One would ban the death penalty, the other would allow Kurds to broadcast in their own language.

This is a big deal because folks are worried that if the current parliament doesn't pass these, a new parliament will be either unable or unwilling to do so before the end of the year, which will cause Turkey to miss a deadline to get to the next stage of its EU membership application. So they're trying to ram it through quick. The hard-right member party of the governing coalition doesn't want these changes, so it's not an easy call.

Not only don't they want these changes, they'd like to have the imprisoned Kurdish terrorist leader Ocalan executed, apparently not worried that it might bring a return to the terrorism and warfare that ended when Ocalan was captured 3+ years ago, and persuaded his followers to call it quits.

Anyway, I think it's pretty silly to tick off a laundry list of laws that the ruling establishment (especially the military) doesn't believe in. They'll find ways around the laws, and no matter what check boxes Turkey fills out on its application, the EU isn't going to accept it until there's an end to institutionalised police torture, and until the democratic government has authority over the military and police rather than the other way around.

But a lot is riding on getting to the next stage of negotiations. Turkey's economy is either going to boom or crash depending on whether it makes it the next stage. All of the players in the economy, including Turks rich and poor, as well as foreign investors, are all looking to that event to decide Turkey's future prosperity. Regardless of what real impact getting to the next stage of negotiations has on the economic fundamentals of the country, belief that it's a make or break event will affect economic confidence in a major, major way.

So whoever ends up running the country after the election, if Turkey doesn't pass those EU-mandated laws, the new government's biggest challenge will be coping with possibly the biggest economic crash this country has seen in decades. The economy now is moribund, a year+ long recession, but as I've said before, people are not hopeless; they're eating, shopping, and living life, even if budgets are tight. But if Turkey has an EU-membership setback, things could get very, very ugly. If the new government is shaky, unsupported by the military establishment (i.e. if the popular Islamic party AKP gets in), we could see major trouble.

Monday, July 29, 2002

America to oppress the Kurds?

Our pal Unqualified, along with some high ranking US military folks, worry that after knocking down Saddam, the US would have to get involved in oppressing the Kurds and Shiites, who might want to form independent states. The US has loudly promised Turkey it won't let Iraqi Kurds form their own nation, which might inspire a return to warfare in Southeast Turkey.

Meanwhile, the Turkish military may want to play a major role in the Iraqi nation-building project.

My guess is that should the US depose Saddam and find the need to discourage Kurdish self-determination, they'll be happy to use proxies rather than use US firepower directly on the Kurds. The proxies would be the new, US-installed Iraqi regime, and Turkey. The Bush administration has promised to pay Turkey billions of dollars if it goes to war in Iraq, to help boost Turkey's shaky economy which would go into the toilet in the event of war. A large chunk of that aid would probably go to weapons, which could and would be used in Northern Iraq and Southest Turkey.

Since the Bush administration considers nation building beneath its dignity, and Turkey is earning points by running the peacekeeping in Kabul, it does seem likely Turkey would have the opportunity to be involved in post-war Baghdad, which would put it in a good position to influence how the Kurdish folks are incorporated into a new government.

Ideally they would make sure that the Kurds feel that being a part of the new Iraq would be better for them than being independent. This would mean convincing the Kurds that the new Iraq would give them a full voice in government, encourage their unique culture, and give them the opportunity to develop economically. Unfortunately the Turkish government, and especially its military, has never demonstrated this philosophy towards separatists, instead believing that bombing the hell out of villages is a better way to keep them in the fold.