May 9, 2006

Rationality in the Middle East?

Back in 2002, when I tried to imagine what could go wrong after we invaded Iraq, the first thing I usually thought of was a clash between Kurds and Turks. The Kurdish uprising within Turkey that ended in the 1990s cost something like 37,000 lives over many years. The Turkish government didn't then want to see an independent Kurdistan form in Iraq, especially if it got control of the northern Iraqi oil fields and thus could subsidize a new Kurdish rebellion in Turkey.

And yet, this is one aspect of the Iraq Goat Rodeo that has worked out fairly well ... at least so far. A reader asserts:

The Iraqi Kurds (at least according to the people I know over there) see the prize of independence within reach and are trying very, very hard not to screw it up. Successfully, for the most part. They are working with the Turks, the Israelis, and some annoyed Syrians without telling the US too much, trying to clamp down on the jihadist fruitcakes as quietly as they can. They too [like the Turkish military] see Iran as the larger problem.

The Turks just want things to settle down enough with the Turkish Kurds to be able to say "yes, we have killed exactly zero dissidents in the last 30 days" to make the EU weenies happy, and are willing to make nice with the Iraqi Kurds to make this happen...

Well, the Turkish military has been working outside of the constitution again. The Turkish military has been working as carefully as possibly with the Kurds and the Armenians and the Azeris and the Georgians (yes, all at the same time), trying to get a feel for what the Iranians are up to and trying to prop up the ex-Soviet kleptocrats in Georgia and Armenia who are not making a very graceful transition to a market economy. I think that our misadvanture in Iraq is a sideshow for the Turks, who see their major issues in terms of Iranian-sponsored chaos and maintaining some reasonable trade for Turkey in the region (the trade the US basically cut off when the Turks backed GHW Bush in the second Gulf War, the first one we were in).

The Turks I know socially are all non-typical (educated, secular, military families) and they think that the Islamists in Ankara have been living on borrowed time. A secular Turkish military regime might go ahead and work to negotiate a permanent Kurdish settlement. Sort of an "only Nixon could go to China" deal. If that is the case, I would expect something similar with Armenia. That would make the Turks look very good, despite the EU membership being torpedoed by the military coup. It would also settle some old issues with very bitter neighbors.

A lot of interests are lining up between some very unlikely parties to try to cleanly carve up Iraq (if an Armenian-Turkish-Kurdish-Azeri-Georgian unofficial military alliance in support of a secular Middle East isn't a platypus of realism, I don't know what would be) and let the Sunni and Shiite Arab parts burn out their religious fervor in the rest of Iraq, ideally bankrupting the Syrians and the Iranians. I see nothing similar on the other side (like, our side) trying to stop this from taking place.

And maybe that isn't such a bad thing after all in the end.

I think that even your readers may be missing a lot of the context, but go ahead.

The takeaway I guess is that

- The Turkish military at the lower levels is planning intelligently for the future, and the top Turkish military leadership and the Islamists may not be part of that future. Good.

- The Kurds have a lot at stake and want to make sure to come out with a little bit of something, as opposed to a whole lot of nothing, which has been their lot to date. Good.

- While the Azeris want to torment the Armenians and vice versa, the Azeris are far more interested in getting their co-ethnics out of Iran and the Armenians are trying to set up alliances to keep from being invaded on a regular basis. Good.

- Neither the Armenians nor the Azeris are interested in the Islamic Republic except as a problem to be solved; the Armenians are Christian and the Azeris are very secular Muslims, like the Kurds, so working with Turkey against Iranian hegemony is a good plan for both. Good.

- And no one wants the Georgian state to collapse (more) because no one wants the Chechens to become even more of a pest than they already are. Good, especially when the US is helping pick up the tab in Georgia.

- The Israelis would really like to have more allies, and all they really want are people to stop killing them. Also good, and they have allies in the Turks and rather positive feelings in Kurdistan towards Israel due to Israeli volunteer medical assistance to the Kurdish rebels over the last 30 years.

So, anything that bottles up (and potentially nibbles away at) Iran, cuts loose the Kurds (at least a little bit), stabilizes the Armenian borders, unites Azerbaijan, keeps Georgia on life support as a buffer for the Chechens, and gives the Islamist fruitcakes a target other than Israel would be pretty much a win/win deal for everyone concerned, right?

The Kurds and Turks want to come out of this mess alive, and the Israelis are cool with that. The Armenians and Azeris are starting to figure this out and may do the right thing in the end. Georgia? Well, think of Georgia as the Teddy Kennedy of the region. Still, they are very uncomfortable with the Chechens on their border and that has proved to be a powerful motivator to act intelligently at least some of the time.

So where does the US vision of a unified Iraq fit in?


I don't see this as a conspiracy, as such. I just don't see how a unified Iraq is in anyone's interest here, and the major players either could care less or would benefit from walking away from a supporting role in the whole Bush family psychodrama playing out right now in Iraq. Of course, my sources are biased (and of course their contacts would be reasonable people -- the top of most organizations are reasonable even if everyone below is stark raving nuts), and the region as a whole is a swirling mass of aliances and betrayals that change on a daily basis. But I see stability in the future. I just don't think that it will be anything close to what the Bush people were planning on.

I would be interested in what people who don't have Turkish military and Kurdish militia contacts have to say. I don't hear these opinions at all in the US press, especially the possibility of another brief period of military rule in Turkey popping up again.

Gregory Cochran isn't impressed. He points out:

- Hey, about the Turks shelling the PKK Kurds lately?

- Kurds want Mosul oil fields in Iraq.

- Azeris are over-represented in Iranian military and other elites, like the Big Guy himself, Khameini, and so is the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, so why would the Azeris state want to get the Iranian Azeris out of Iran? The Azeris have more or less dominated the Iranian state for centuries. This sounds like a neocon talking point. Joe Stalin tried to break off the Azeri region of Iran after WWII and flopped.

Is there any Iranian-sponsored chaos affecting Turkey?

Can these Young Turk secular officers really get their Muslim enlisted men to move against the Islamic government?

Is Iran really that fragile that it will fall apart along ethnic lines? It didn't fall apart during its 8 year war with Iraq, which is better than, say, the Austro-Hungarian Empire did over 1914-1918.

And why would any ethnic minority other than the Kurds want to get out of Iran right now with Iranian oil at $70 per barrel (unless they could take the oil with them)?

A reader writes:

As a Neocon Iranian let me tell you that the notion Azeri separatism is a joke. Azeris in Iran are as likely to secede as are Scott-Irish in the US. Most Azeris in Iran don’t even speak Turkish, are Shia Muslim, and barely have an ethnic identity (other than traditionally being the butt of most jokes in Iran). Iranians, including Azeris, are extremely nationalistic. The US will not find support in invasion or internally toppling the regime, aerial bombing is the way to go with Iran.

Beside the Kurds also the Beluchi have a strong ethnic identity, but that’s it, and both groups are small and weak. Iranian Kurds are more assimilated than Turkish and Iraqi Kurds (majority would support seceding, but only a minority would fight for it, unlike Iraq).

Having said that don’t overestimate the importance of oil. Iran has 70 million people, even with oil (temporarily) at 70 $ that’s 1000$ per person (Iran exports slightly below 1 billion barrels each year).

So, maybe rationality isn't breaking out in the Middle East after all.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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