Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



Among the potential allies needed for a U.S.-led war against Iraq, Turkey is crucial in the Pentagon's planning. Turkey's location on Iraq's northern border and the key U.S. airbase located at Incirlik make the country an indispensable ally for President Bush's threatened invasion of Iraq..

Two major problems are apparent, however.

First, Turkey's national elections on November 3 resulted in large gains for the Justice and Development Party (AKP), a political organization that promotes a moderate form of Islam for this secular country. No one yet knows how its charismatic leader, Tayyip Erdogan, will orient the country's foreign policy if, as expected, his party forms the next government. But as mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s, he opposed Turkey's membership in NATO and the European Union..

A second problem for U.S. planners is the serious internal security threat to Turkey posed by its large Kurdish minority which inhabits an area bordering on Iraq. Similar Kurdish tribes inhabit northern Iraq and the government in Ankara fears that ousting Saddam Hussein could result in the split-up of Iraq into several pieces. In that event, Iraqi Kurds would set up their own state in the north and influence Kurds in Turkey to do the same.

British and American fighter planes have policed a northern no-fly zone in Iraq for the past eight years. This has provided security for Iraq's Kurds and they have now established a quasi-autonomous government that is relatively free of Baghdad's control.

Washington's senior diplomats and the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, General Tommy Franks, conferred in Ankara recently with Turkish officials, including the chiefs of Turkey's armed forces, in an effort to obtain their cooperation if and when the United States goes to war with Iraq.

There has been no announcement so far of Turkey's agreement to participate in war, but most observers think Ankara would not deny the United States use of Incirlik and other air bases. Leaders of the powerful Turkish army have a decisive influence under Turkey's constitution in determining the country's national security policy.

What Turkey hopes to gain

Turkey needs a large infusion of foreign capital to help it overcome a serious economic situation. Some months ago Washington and the International Monetary Fund extended loans in order to help its government avoid the sort of economic crisis that faces Brazil and Argentina. After the 1991 Gulf War, in which Turkey participated, it lost much of its trade with Iraq as well as income from a pipeline that carried Iraqi oil across the country to a Mediterrannean port.

If its new government agrees to join a U.S. coalition to oust Saddam Hussein's regime, if tries to block new U.N inspections, Ankara is likely to demand two major concessions: a security zone in northern Iraq, policed by Turkish troops, and large economic concessions to help turn around its troubled economy.

Economic help for Turkey is not an insurmountable problem for Washington. Financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund and private investors can be encouraged by President Bush to help Turkey, if its new government cleans up corruption and adopts prudent fiscal policies.

The second potential Turkish demand could be a bigger problem for Washington: it would require U.S. and perhaps U.N. approval of Turkey's acquiring a security zone in northern Iraq which is inhabited by a large Kurdish population. These Kurds will not agree to having their autonomous status within Iraq supplanted by a Turkish military presence. Significantly, Ankara already has about 5,000 troops in northern Iraq to hunt down Turkish Kurd insurgents who have carried out terrorist acts in Turkey.

Ankara's officials may eventually desire to gain control over the Kirkuk oil fields in northern Iraq and in order to ensure a steady flow of oil across Turkey to world markets. Turks claim that a Turkish-speaking people inhabit the Kirkuk region and need protection against a hostile government in Baghdad and local Kurdish tribes.

The Bush administration is silent so far about how Iraq would be administered if force is used to oust its government. Some observers suggest that it should follow the Afghanistan model by installing a trusted Iraqi exile leader to head the new government backed by a modest number of American and allied troops.

A divided and occupied Iraq

A few hardliners have floated a "MacArthur solution," the selection of a U.S. military commander to run a postwar Iraq as General MacArthur did in Japan after World War II.. This military governor would be an all-powerful czar who maintains order and prevents Iraq from splitting up. That would surely be a unilateralist U.S. policy for Iraq.

Now, however, the Bush administration favors a coalition approach to invading and administering Iraq, and a Kosovo model might be more appropriate. In that case the NATO allies in 1999 divided Kosovo into security zones, after the withdrawal of Serb troops, and Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, along with the United States, administered five separate sectors of Kosovo, an arrangement that worked quite well.

If the idea of several occupation zones for postwar Iraq is envisioned, a key question is which countries should participate. Turkey surely will expect to police northern Iraq if it participates in the war. Great Britain obviously would get a security zone, perhaps in southeastern Iraq bordering on the Persian Gulf. Major responsibility for occupying Baghdad and central Iraq, and supporting a new government, would fall to the United States. It would provide the largest number of troops in postwar Iraq.

A role for France and Russia?

Would France and Russia, two critics of using force against Iraq, be invited to join a postwar arrangement to administer Iraq? Both countries have strong commercial ties to Baghdad, and the Soviet Union earlier had close military links to Saddam Hussein's regime.

If new U.N. inspections of Iraq's production of weapons of massive destruction are stalled, would France and perhaps Russia join a U.S.-led coalition to bring down Saddam's regime? As an inducement to joining their operation,, would Washington and London offer Paris and/ Moscow a role in administering postwar Iraq?

Whatever decision President Bush eventually makes regarding war with Iraq, he must have the firm support of Turkey. With Saudi Arabia undecided on whether it will permit U.S. forces to use of its territory for war on Iraq, Turkey's participation is essential to the success of a military operation to bring regime change in Baghdad..

File last modified on Thursday, 13-AUG-2004 07:00 PM EST

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