Ever since President Obama declared that he would end America’s military presence in Iraq, Turkish officials have been salivating at the opportunity of presenting the United States with a series of demands in return for allowing U.S. troops to leave through Turkey.
As a NATO ally and staunch opponent of the war in Iraq, one would have expected that the Turkish government would extend all necessary logistical assistance to the United States to withdraw its troops from the region in a safe, orderly, and expeditious manner. Instead, Turkey’s leaders are viewing the U.S. departure as a golden opportunity to exploit to the hilt for their own benefit.
Even before anyone from the U.S. government mentioned the possibility of American troops leaving Iraq through Turkey, Ankara officials volunteered to support such an idea—subject to negotiations and eventual approval by the Turkish Parliament. In other words, if the price was right, and if all Turkish demands were met, Turkey would be more than happy to give its blessing.
Turkish leaders are also pleased that Obama is going to increase the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, in addition to seeking soldiers from other countries. This is yet another opportunity for Turks to fleece the U.S.
Today’s Zaman newspaper quoted unnamed Ankara officials as stating that Turkey is opposed to sending troops to Afghanistan, beyond its 800 non-combat soldiers already there. However, since the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide is approaching and both Obama and Congress are expected to take a stand on this issue, Turkey may change its mind and decide to contribute troops to Afghanistan after all.
This is the same kind of horse-trading that went on in 2003, when Washington asked for permission to enter northern Iraq through Turkey. After lengthy bargaining on how many billions of dollars the U.S. would offer Ankara to allow such a passage, the Turkish Parliament voted down the American request. This rejection delayed the start of the war, forcing U.S. troops to travel from the Mediterranean to Iraq through the Persian Gulf, and resulted in more casualties among American troops who had to fight their way from southern Iraq to the north.
One wonders what demands the Turks will make this time around to allow U.S. troops to leave Iraq through Turkey and to send more Turkish soldiers to Afghanistan. How many billions of dollars will Turkish leaders ask for and which U.S. policies, in addition to genocide recognition, will they seek to influence?
One would hope that Obama draws a valuable lesson from the experience of previous administrations—that Turkey is not a reliable ally—a lesson also learned by Israel during the recent Gaza conflict.
It appears that some U.S. military officials have already concluded that they cannot place the fate of American soldiers in the hands of capricious Turkish leaders. U.S. troops are expected to be evacuated from Iraq through neighboring Jordan and Kuwait, which have never put any conditions nor made any demands on the U.S. government. Given the attractiveness of the withdrawal route through these two friendly Arab countries, the American military may completely ignore the Turkish transit option. The traditional Turkish practice of making excessive demands may have finally backfired.
The Associated Press (AP) released a report last week, disclosing that U.S. troops will “shift” to the south (Kuwaiti border) and “exit” through the desert, meaning Jordan. The AP quoted Terry Moores, deputy assistant chief of staff for logistics for the Marine Corps Central Command, as stating: “The Marines have already tested exit routes through Jordan with plans for a full-scale exodus” in 2010.
One would hope that at long last, U.S. appeasement of Turkey might be coming to an end. The mistake made by previous U.S. and Israeli administrations is that the more they cave in to Turkish blackmail, the more demanding the Turks become.
Due to Turkey’s persistent use of bullying tactics in the past, U.S. commanders have good reason to be concerned with choosing the Turkish option out of Iraq. What would happen if in the midst of the troop pullout, Turkish leaders object to a particular U.S. policy? What if the Turks threaten to block the transit of U.S. troops unless the State Department revises its latest human rights report (which accuses Turkey of torture, unlawful killings, limited freedom of expression, and restrictions on minorities)?
The wisest approach is to eliminate all such demands and threats once and for all, by telling Turkey that unless it cooperates fully with the U.S., it will receive no further economic or military aid. After all, Turkey needs the U.S. much more than the U.S. needs Turkey. The tail should not be allowed to wag the dog!