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Editorial: Tread carefully with Turkey

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | OCTOBER 21, 2014 5:00 AM

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Last month, President Obama made it clear that our nation’s new fight against radical Islam would be framed differently. Unlike the Iraq war, which became increasingly a lone effort toward the end years, the coalition against ISIS extremists is “not America’s fight alone.” Claiming the support of approximately 40 allies, the president proudly announced the support of Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Indeed, many of our allies provided support and even assisted in strategic coordinated air strikes.
While the devastation caused by ISIS in Iraq and Syria has been tremendous, Turkey has expressed hesitation in becoming actively involved. As Syria’s northern neighbor, Turkey has a significant opportunity to make a real difference.

Turkey’s political history, however, makes this proposition a difficult one. The people fighting ISIS in northern Syria are Kurds. Turkey has a separatist movement in its country called the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also referred to as the PKK. The militant party aims to provide representation for Kurds in Turkey, which number around 10 to 23 percent of the population (the government has banned ethnic censuses). The PKK is listed as an international terrorist organization by NATO, the United States, and the European Union.

Let’s bring this back to Syria. ISIS is fighting the Kurds in the northern town of Kobani. Secretary of State John Kerry calls it “irresponsible” and “morally difficult” not to help the Kurds in Kobani. Naturally, the Turkish Kurds want to support the Syrian Kurds. Nonetheless, Turkey felt as if its hands were tied and chose to sit still.

At this point, the United States has to intervene. This week, the U.S. Air Force provided military aid by plane, dropping weapons, ammunition, and medical supplies.

To the surprise of the much of the Western world, Turkey flip-flopped. Just this month, Turkish President Erdogan had called both the Kurds and ISIS militants “terrorists.” Now, Turkey has agreed to allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters to pass along its border into Syria.

By doing this, Turkey has finally picked a side and shown that, despite the criticism Obama has received on this issue, it seems he’s doing something right.

Before we start celebrating the effectiveness of our international catwalk, it’s important to note that this isn’t the first time the United States has assisted militant groups internationally. The United States has a long history of providing arms, aid, and training to rebel groups.

The CIA recently conducted a study to determine just how successful these operations have been in the course of its 67-year history. The results indicate that, unfortunately, they rarely have positive outcomes. These covert efforts typically have the effect of spurring long-term conflict in the area. The operations were even less effective when there wasn’t any direct military assistance.

What this means is that while we like hearing there won’t be “boots on the ground,” history is telling us this has been the most effective way to bring about the desired change. But are we willing to pay that price?

If this fight does become more prolonged, it could be up to the next president to determine how to finish it. Some consider the instability in Iraq to be a continuation of what the United States started there more than a decade ago. The situation is very tricky and provides no clear answer; the United States must learn from its history and continue to be careful in its international entanglements.


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