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Poor communication

The Washington Times

BYLINE: By Tulin Daloglu, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

http://washingtontimes.com/article/20080311/EDITORIAL/184845911/1013

What can be more natural than people demanding security when they come under attack as happened on September 11? But there is no guarantee that a government will choose the best course. The debate in the United States, in which the Democratic presidential hopefuls argue that the Bush administration’s Iraq policy has made Americans more vulnerable, is natural in a democracy. And that same kind of open criticism leveled against the government has prompted great confusion in Turkey over the recent military incursion into Northern Iraq. The trouble in the Turkish case is, however, that it’s getting needlessly drowned in its own identity crisis.

The military operation itself was successful, but the public reaction has greatly diminished its effectiveness. The Turkish government failed to lay the proper groundwork — both at home and abroad — for this operation. It failed to brief the media in a timely manner, and allowed confusion to reign among the populace. Even worse, Turkey’s opposition parties were equally uninformed. They evidently received neither government nor military briefings about the operation’s prospects, and got their information only through the media. In such unknown territory, they have fiercely criticized the timing of the operation, and the way troops were withdrawn as it came a day after President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Turks should exit as quickly as possible. Turks wonder if they weren’t ordered to leave.

Interestingly, though, Mr. Bush and the Turkish military stated nearly identical aims. “Turks need to move quickly, achieve their objective and get out,” he said. Said the Turkish military: “[W]hen the objective is successfully achieved, the operation will come to an end.” As a Pentagon official explained it to me, “Washington needs to be watchful of others’ perception in the region.” More to the point, at no time did the United States stop sharing active intelligence to make this operation a success.

In terms of domestic politics, the already tense relationship between the opposition parties and the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) took a new turn. There were allegations that the AKP distracted the military with this operation and cleared the political landscape for the party to push its agenda further.

There is fear in Turkey that AKP policies may systematically erode the secular order. Therefore, there was concern when Turkish President Abdullah Gul approved the controversial bill allowing women to wear headscarves in public universities on the same day Turkey began its ground incursion into Northern Iraq. While the Turkish military remains the watchguard of Turkey’s secular order, the intricacies of the political scene brought the secularists and the military against each other. Now, the secular camp believes the military will gradually shift into the Islamist camp.

Furthermore, the AKP aims for sweeping victories especially in the Kurdish-dominated areas in east and southeast of Turkey in local elections scheduled for early next year. While the military may also benefit from that victory, the trouble is the Kurdish side believes that the AKP harmed its popularity by approving the ground incursion. Yet, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani’s visit to Ankara last week as the guest of Mr. Gul was also an important turning point. The Turkish press is reporting that Turkish officials will meet “unofficially” with Necirvan Barzani, the Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, in Baghdad as a follow-up to the Ankara meeting. Turkish officials had no problem meeting with Mr. Barzani. But the way it’s been presented hints that the Turkish government is moving toward recognizing the Kurdistan Regional Government — which will certainly break a taboo in Turkey. And that will surely help the AKP to boost its popularity in the Kurdish east and southeast of Turkey.

Party strategy over the Kurds, however, points to serious identity turmoil. Qubad Talabani, the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s representative in the United States and son of the Iraqi president, calls the Turkish military operation a failure. “This was the first time that the PKK was able to counter a sizeable Turkish operation without the leadership of [Abdullah] Ocalan,” he told me. “It emboldened the current leadership of PKK. The timing was absurd. They left because this is not walk in the park.”

Now, of course Mr. Talabani sees it this way — he’s a Kurd. And when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemns Israel over the Gaza operation, his rhetoric is no different; he defines himself as a Muslim first, which is why he remains in solidarity with Hamas. Mr. Erdogan’s government presumes that Hamas has a right to self-defense. But if the PKK were to attack Turkey with the same frequency and ferociousness as Hamas attacks Israel from Gaza, it’s a safe bet that the Turkish military would respond not only by attacking PKK members. After all, fighting terrorism is not a clean job.

If only Turks were to be sure of their identity, these nuisance-like political intricacies would be replaced with more substantive issues that could actually help people to have a peaceful and prosperous life. For now, Turks remain in an identity crisis. Therefore, it’s a safe bet to call it a “swing state.”

Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.