- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

LONDON — For all the talk about our Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian "allies," America really has only two allies in the Islamic world. Pakistan has been most visible in the war in Afghanistan, and its president, Pervez Musharraf, has been an outspoken critic of terrorism and the culture that produces it. But the widening gap between American interests and our so-called Arab allies is as plain as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's refusal to meet with Colin Powell last week. If the Arab nations are to play any role, other than adversary, in the war against terror, we need to find a way to narrow that gap. It may be that Turkey one of our strongest allies and our only other real ally in the Islamic world can succeed where we failed. If it does, it will be without fanfare because, when it can, Turkey avoids the center stage.

Turkey has been the southeastern cornerstone of NATO for decades. Its strategic location put it directly in the path of Russian plans to expand into the Middle East. Turkey controls the only passages from the Russian Black Sea ports to the open ocean, and shares an eastern border with Iraq. For all of its strategic importance, Turkey often gets little respect from us or from our European allies. Early in the Clinton presidency, former Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal died. His personal dedication to NATO should have earned him the honor of presidential attendance at his funeral. Mr. Clinton didn't go, and neither did Vice President Gore, who rejected the duty. Mr. Gore apparently thought that having himself look more important than his predecessor was more important than honoring a valuable ally. Poor Dan Quayle went to so many funerals that some called him America's ambassador to the dead.

Turkey forgave, even if it did not forget. Now, with our attention turning to Iraq, Turkey's interests must be accounted for in our plans to remove Saddam Hussein. Iraq poses a more complex matter than it appears, because what comes after Saddam is important to Turkey and, in the long run, to us as well. There is a substantial Kurdish minority in Turkey, and two Kurdish opposition parties in northern Iraq. The Kurdish-Iraqi opposition is split between Masoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), in the north near Syria, and Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the south, near Iran. Neither of the two is capable of toppling Saddam, and the KDP lacks sufficient strength to ensure a stable government after Saddam is gone.

The other half of that problem is that Mr. Talabani's PUK is dominated by Shiite Muslim fundamentalists who would turn Iraq into another Iran. Neither America nor Turkey can allow that, because of Iraq's oil and the fact that a fundamentalist government in Iraq would foment revolutions in the surrounding nations. In a private interview last week Turkey's ambassador to the United States, Dr. O. Faruk Legoglu, said that Turkey will not accept a partitioned Iraq. President Bush has agreed that partitioning Iraq will be unacceptable to America as well. Planning for a new and undivided government for Iraq will take time. Our campaign against Iraq is on hold until it is done.

Turkey, like America, cannot accept Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction. Turkey would prefer U.N. inspections over military action. But like America, Turkey is very skeptical that Saddam will ever cooperate. The ambassador would not say if Turkey would join an attack on Iraq. But there is little reason to doubt that Turkey would join the fight, whether or not other Muslim countries give even their tacit consent to an attack.

Over the past two months, American diplomacy has failed conspicuously to get anything from any Arab nation other than contemptuous opposition for our plan to remove Saddam Hussein. Vice President Cheney struck out quietly in his eleven-nation tour in March. Mr. Powell could not have gotten more fanfare in failure if he had taken a marching band on the road between Ramallah and Tel Aviv. The gulf that separates America and the Arab nations is widening. If we soon make any progress in narrowing it, the progress is more likely to result from Turkish diplomacy than our own.

To get Turkey and Greece to agree on almost anything is extraordinary. But in these strange days, the Turkish and Greek foreign ministers will soon travel together to the Middle East to test the waters for a historic summit. Their mission is not to gather a coalition to fight Iraq. It is to see if they can relieve any of the growing tension between the Arab world and the West. The two ministers plan to meet with Yasser Arafat as a start, and possibly with their counterparts from other nations in the region. If the two foreign ministers meet with Mr. Arafat, they will ask him to participate in a meeting such as the one proposed by Mr. Powell last week. Unlike Mr. Powell's approach, it would place Turkey and Greece one Islamic nation and one Christian nation in the place of the honest broker that America cannot now occupy.

Turkey and Greece may be able to accomplish what Ariel Sharon and Colin Powell failed to do to make all the Middle Eastern Arab nations responsible for making and enforcing peace. If Turkey and Greece can maneuver the Arab nations into a position of responsibility for peace, there can be real progress toward it. To succeed, Turkey and Greece will have to convince the Arab states to use Mr. Arafat for a different purpose than before. He always has been a pawn, and his terrorism makes it impossible for him to be party to the end game. But the Arab nations can include the Palestinians in an agreement between them and Israel that would both recognize Israel and guarantee its right to exist, as well as establish a Palestinian state. Every serious player will sacrifice a pawn to win the game.

Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration.

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