President Bush recently admitted, “The work in Iraq has been especially difficult — more difficult than we expected.” Would it be less difficult if the Turks allowed U.S. troops to cross the border from Turkey to Northern Iraq? In March, on the second anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said, “Given the level of the insurgency today, two years later, clearly, if we had been able to get the 4th Infantry Division in from the north through Turkey, more of the Iraqi Saddam Hussein Ba’athist regime would have been captured or killed.”
Yet, Lt. Col. John Agoglia, Gen. Tommy Franks’ chief war planner in Iraq who was part of the military’s negotiating team in Turkey, concluded something different when talking to James Kapsis, a former congressional aide and graduate student at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School who worked for the State Department in Istanbul.
“Did we need the Turks to execute the operation? No.” Lt. Col. Agoglia said. “Would their support have potentially facilitated better conditions for the post conflict phase because of the pressure it would put on the north, and the potential to get units to capitulate? We thought there would have been potential.”
After the parliament’s decision not to open a northern front into Iraq, the relationship between the United States and Turkey seemed to lose its value faster than any bond on Wall Street. However, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stopped in Turkey on her first foreign trip. “I wanted to come here as a part of my first trip as secretary of state to talk about the very important strategic relationship that the United States and Turkey enjoy,” she said in Ankara. “A relationship that is based on interest, a relationship is based on a common view of the future, but most importantly, a relationship that is based on common values.”
Evidently, the United States wanted to move past the Turkish Parliament’s decision. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the White House in June. And since then, according to Daniel Fried, the assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, there is a lot of “collaboration with respect to Iraq, increasing cooperation with respect to the PKK.”
The challenge of U.S.-Turkey relations has been more about a “state of mind,” rather than a “state of realities.” First, Turks did understand the U.S. “tactical” alliance with the Iraqi Kurds to bring down the regime. They also have no problem with the Kurds being given high-level positions in the transitional government until the Dec. 15 elections. Yet when the PKK, the separatist Kurdish terrorists, started to cross the border from Northern Iraq to Turkey, Turks did not understand why the United States did not act. The question was whether the “tactical” partnership with the Kurds had taken over the “strategic” alliance between the two NATO allies. Worst, Turks feared that the United States was “intentionally” trying to create an independent Kurdistan — and where would those borders be?
Although President Bush explained many times that the United States is determined to preserve Iraq’s territorial integrity, the difficulties of postwar Iraq have fueled Turks’ worries about the future. It is still unclear whether the Turkish public believes that in the “state of realities,” the United States intends to create a federal Iraq rather than an independent Kurdistan. In addition, high-level visits from Turkey to Syria and Iran have created almost a crisis atmosphere. Because Turkey refused to open the northern front, the Bush administration assumed that Turkey is aligning with these countries against the United States.
Finally, books like “Metal Storm,” with its plot about a clash with Turkish forces in northern Iraq and a surprise attack by U.S. forces, also fuel the unease. In the book, Turkey turns to Russia and the European Union, who turn back the American onslaught. Senior U.S. officials declared their concern over increasing anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism in Turkey.
According to their mindset, a Turkey that opposes the Iraq war could turn against Americans and Jews, and their security in Turkey could be jeopardized. By the end of the year, the reality was that Jews’ security in Turkey was not threatened. However, the Turkish government should have been more vocal to prevent the possibility of trouble.
Bottom line: Since Miss Rice’s visit in Ankara and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit in Washington, U.S.-Turkey relations have entered an era of reinvigoration in 2005. Hopefully, 2006 will bring a stronger relationship, like it was before the Iraq war.
Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.