Israel launched airstrikes on Lebanon in response to attacks by Hizbullah earlier this month, and George W. Bush called it "self-defense." But what to tell the Turks, who over the last week lost 15 soldiers to terror attacks launched by separatist Kurds from neighboring Iraq? Many Turkish leaders are pressing for cross-border tactical air assaults on the guerrillas. But Bush, fearing yet another escalation of the Middle East's violence, urged Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to hold off. "The message was, unilateral action isn't going to be helpful," says a senior U.S. official, describing the 15-minute phone conversation. "The president asked for patience."That last bit has the slight sting of painful irony, doesn't it?
Since the beginning of the year, attacks on Turkish military garrisons and police stations have escalated across the country's southeast, along with random shootings, bombings and protests - many of them, authorities suspect, organized in Iraq. Already the Turkish military has laid detailed plans for possible helicopter and commando assaults, government sources tell NEWSWEEK. Meanwhile, Ankara's frustration with Washington has grown palpable. For all the Bush administration's repeated promises to crack down on the PKK, little if anything has happened. With elections coming next year, Erdogan could be pardoned for soon concluding that his forbearance might prove politically dangerous. "Moderate, liberal people in Turkey are becoming increasingly anti-American," warns Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. "That isn't good."The Turks are under the same political pressures the Israelis suffer - the need to exact revenge on increasingly daring terrorists. Furthermore, Turkey has the added pressure of its large and historically separatist ethnic Kurdish minority living in its southeast provinces near Iraq. As Kurdistan gets more and more independent, its draw for the Kurds living in Turkey will grow, and Turkey will be damned if they'll lose yet another piece of their once great empire. At some point in the near future, if the attacks from Iraq continue at their current pace, acting forcefully may become a matter of political survival for Turkey's leaders. At that point, no entreaties for "restraint" from Washington will stop the response.
This doesn't look good, but this conflict, like all the other problems that have developed with the Iraq war, was predicted years ago.