Fog of war, indeed. The global situation regarding Iraq has turned into a full-on cock-up.
Turkey — with the prompting of the military — is having second thoughts on its vote Saturday. The U.S. announced the deployment of 60,000 more troops to be sent to Kuwait, bringing the forces in the region almost up to Desert Storm levels (Then approx. 500,000 with coalition forces.) Tomorrow is Hans Blix’s big day at the U.N., where he will deliver another report on the status of Iraq’s compliance with UNSCR 1441. The United States continues to work the phones for the votes on the Security Council, and perhaps most significantly, President Bush has called an 8 pm EST news conference in the East Room tonight.
This very well might be the moment the world has been dreading, in which Bush gives Saddam Hussein a final ultimatum — mainly so journalists, aid workers and diplomats can use the next few days to leave the country. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush’s opening statement in the East Room would address “the successes in the war against terror as well as the importance of disarming Saddam Hussein.” He also said Bush still has not decided whether to wage war.
FUBAR in Turkey
Saturday’s vote by the Turks was unexpected — or was it? — and the military mainly stayed out of the process. But now the Turkish military is signaling its support for U.S. plans.
Chief of general staff, Gen. Hilmi Ozkok, has signaled to parliament that the military would really, really like it if the parliament approved the Americans’ request, despite the overwhelming opposition to the war. “It’d be a shame for something to happen to your little government,” he told parliament as his picked his fingernails with a bowie knife. (Not really.) Turkish papers are full of the speculation that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government will submit a new proposal after Saturday’s parliamentary vote. Why didn’t the military speak up before? Ozkok remarked that the military had not made its views public earlier in order to avoid influencing the parliament.
“If we had expressed our views, it would have amounted to pressuring the parliament for the approval of the resolution. It wouldn’t have been democratic,” Ozkok said. (Cue rueful laughter.)
In other words, Ozkok told parliament that the Turkish military believes in Turkish democracy — until it gets a vote it doesn’t like. Has he been taking lessons from Don Rumsfeld?
There is no doubt the civilian government got the message, as Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said Ozkok’s comments were “reasonable.” Parliament speaker Bulent Arinc, who is pursuing some agenda of his own, gave a more measured response, saying he appreciated the general’s remarks and thought the timing of the statement was “quite telling.”
Approximately 94 percent of the Turkish citizenry opposes a U.S. war with Iraq. President Bush can’t deride those numbers as he did the Feb. 15 marches, which brought tens of millions of people to the streets worldwide, as a “focus group.” Ninety-four percent is the population. So it seems in order to plant the seeds of democracy in Iraq, the United States is prepared to ignore the democracy next door in Turkey and stomp the sapling in Iraqi Kurdistan. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?
Anyway, as far as plots by the Turkish military to unilaterally invade Iraqi Kurdistan if a northern front can’t be opened up in time (and make no mistake — the Turkish vote sent the White House reeling and grasping for alternatives), who the hell knows what’s happening? But statements from Ozkok have made clear that the idea of a Turkish invasion into the region is definitely on the table.
The Turkish official [speaking on condition of anonymity] said that Turkey’s generals were skeptical of the ability of the United States to ensure that the Iraqi Kurds did not try to break away if the Saddam Hussein were deposed.
In his remarks, General Ozkok alluded to those concerns, and sent a terse warning to the Kurds of northern Iraq.
“I remind them of our legitimate right to defend our national interests, and I hope they will be prudent and cooperative,” General Ozkok said. “Those who want to replace peace with confrontation will also take the responsibility and bear the consequences.” [From the New York Times]
The State Department is certainly taking the risk of a Turkish intervention seriously, with spokesman Richard Boucher emphasizing that a unilateral move on northern Iraq can not be allowed:
QUESTION: What about the demonstration in northern Iraq by the half a million Kurds? They’re afraid that the United States is doing a deal maybe with Turkey. What can you say to these people who are worried?
MR. BOUCHER: I think the first thing I would say is that we have been in touch with people in northern Iraq. You know that we had a delegation at the conference of the outside opposition, and we have been meeting over time frequently with the people who live in northern Iraq. And we’ve always been interested in their welfare and their safety. The United States has a very strong record on that point.
Second of all, I’d say that we’ve always, we’ve discussed very intensively with Turkish authorities the situation in northern Iraq, in particular in the context of these agreements we’ve just reached. And I think the basic outlook there, the basic principles that apply to the United States Government and the Turkish Government of looking for an Iraq that’s representative, where all the people of Iraq can be representative and play a role in their government, but that stays together as a unitary state, those are principles we’ve all adopted and that is our outlook on the situation. We’ve also, I think, made very clear that we would intend to coordinate any military activities very closely with the Turkish authorities and that we have opposed unilateral intervention from any quarter in northern Iraq.
QUESTION: On that, a follow-up on that last sentence. Do you think that now the Turkish forces will not enter independently of United States forces? That’s what everybody’s talking about in northern Iraq and in the Middle East.
MR. BOUCHER: As I said, I think first of all, our record on the safety of the people who live in northern Iraq has been quite well established over the years, and we do consider their safety in everything we do. We’ve been in close touch with the Turkish Government. We would need to coordinate any military moves with them and they with us, and we’ve always been opposed to unilateral moves into northern Iraq.
This one bears watching.
Meanwhile, back at the U.N. …
Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have been working the diplomats, hoping to wrangle nine votes and no vetoes from France or Russia, although the latter seems increasingly unlikely. Why work the lines so hard if another resolution is “unnecessary” as the White House has contended for some time and it looks like a fight the U.S. is going to lose? Well, because domestic support for the war increasingly hinges on whether the U.N. approves it or not. And that applies even more so for Tony Blair, who could be toast without one — especially if Blix comes back tomorrow and says, as is expected, that Iraq is making progress and taking concrete steps toward cooperation.
All in all, it’s a confusing time, and if this is the White House’s plan for deception via confusion, it’s working well. No one seems to know what’s happening with Turkey, the troops and northern Iraq, what it will take to get the U.N. on board or even if Tony Blair will be prime minister at the end of the shooting. The Americans’ time table for war is slipping by the day, as the moon grows brighter and April’s heat grows nearer. Bush can’t afford to wait much longer. If the Security Council fails to approve the U.K.-U.S.-Bulgarian resolution, Bush may be ready to throw up his hands and roll the dice on thousands (millions?) of lives, the geostrategic balance and his presidency.
ASIDE: For a good roundup of the U.S. order of battle, check out this story from an old colleague of mine.