Turkey’s Wise Hesitation

Today’s WaPo editorial argues that the Turkish government has thus far refrained from launching a military strike into northern Iraq in response to repeated incursions by PKK guerrillas because of smart calculations of costs and benefits, not “merely statesmanlike restraint or responsiveness to U.S., European and Arab appeals.” Not only would an invasion be militarily costly with no certainly of accomplishing Turkey’s objectives, but it would be harmful to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party domestically.

This leads, however, to a tepid conclusion:

The reality is that the PKK threat cannot be quickly eliminated by military means. Iraqi Kurdish leaders, especially regional president Massoud Barzani, should pressure the PKK to cease any operations across the Iraqi border and to release any Turkish prisoners held in Iraq. The Bush administration should make clear to Mr. Barzani that failing to apply such pressure will endanger relations between the United States and Kurdistan. At the same time, Mr. Erdogan should lower his country’s expectations and his own regarding how much can be done immediately to eliminate the Iraqi bases of the PKK — which is, after all, a Turkish insurgent group that has been active for decades. Neutralizing it will require closer cooperation between Turkish and Iraqi Kurdish authorities, more effective Turkish military operations inside Turkey, and more political reforms in both countries.

That’s the nature of counter-terrrorism and counter-guerrilla operations, generally. Experts like John Robb have counseled that, essentially, these phenomena are akin to crime; we can take measures to protect ourselves and punish perpetrators but they’re simply realities of life. That may well be true.

Politically, however, that’s a mighty hard sell. Patience and resorts to diplomatic efforts will generally get leaders branded as weak and ineffective. It’s far more rewarding to take action and appear tough and decisive, even if failure is the ultimate result.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    Why didn’t we have this discussion last summer when Israel laid waste to Southern Lebanon and a large swath of Beirut? I recalled the refrain back then was that we don’t negotiate with terrorists.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Why didn’t we have this discussion last summer when Israel laid waste to Southern Lebanon and a large swath of Beirut?

    I’m pretty sure we did have that discussion then. I wrote quite a number of blog posts and an article for Reason on the subject (Bombing to Lose: Why Israel failed in Lebanon), as I recall.

  3. Christopher says:

    Gee James, sounds like you are trying to say something but think it is cool to look cryptic or metaphorical.

    Why don’t you just come out and say what you are thinking?

    (And Reason magazine? I didn’t know you were an athiest. But not the least bit surprising)

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    A somewhat-better-informed commenter over at my place left a comment to this effect on one of my posts on the Turkey/PKK thing. He commented more from a military standpoint, suggesting that Turkey’s military wasn’t really up to the task and would be likely to depend on destroying villages from the air. Actually, it might well be that they’ve learned something from the Israelis’ experience of last year. Except that the terrain in northwestern Iraq is much rougher than that in southern Lebanon, making the task that much more difficult.