Monday, July 23, 2007

Viability of the Kurdish Approach

Cross-posted at the Agonist.

I blogged just the other day about Peter Galbraith's article in the New York Review of Books, wherein he advocates for a redeployment of our troops to Kurdish Iraq. I generally favor that idea as I'd like for us to accomplish something morally decent in what time we have left in the country (such as protecting the Kurds) but I don't honestly know if it's a good idea or not, or even if it's feasible. And I think that for balance it's a good idea for me to cite to others who think that it isn't, such as Eric Martin over at TIA:

Also, can we stop talking about Kurdistan as a viable destination for any such ill-advised residual force? We would be putting ourselves in a massive lose-lose situation - stuck, hapless, in the middle of a conflict that would pit a NATO ally against our potential patrons (and part of the country we just "liberated"). If we side with our NATO allies, the Kurds won't be the most hospitable of hosts. Yet if we side with the Kurds, we would alienate a country that is far more essential to a wide range of US interests - beyond its NATO status even.

Neither side would really accept neutrality either, especially inaction from such proximity. This counts moreso for the Turks, who we would be relying on to provide routes of re-supply for our Kurdistan garrisoned troops (already a shaky proposition given Turkey's likely anger at our decision to move north regardless). If not for the Turkish routes, the re-supply would have to run through Iran (uh, not gonna happen), or up through the entire expanse of Iraq (where we would have just left due to the difficulty of occupation).

Not to mention the fact that our presence would likely inspire the Kurds to overreach in connection with controversial issues like the status of Kirkuk - and even PKK-related activities in Turkey and/or Iran.

Come to think of it, it would be such a colossally bad decision that I fully expect the Bush administration to make it. Kurdistan, here we come.

Eric Martin opposes any redeployment that leaves a substantial number of American troops in Iraq, and he's especially opposed to a Kurdish redeployment as some panacea that will preserve for us some coherant purpose to our presence in Iraq.

I for one am undecided. I don't know how the Kurds will survive as an autonomous power once we leave, as they will be largely surrounded by hostile or indifferent nations. Then again, maybe we can't do anything about that even if we want to. I don't know that the Turks will be so unaccepting of our presence in Kurdistan that it will irreparably harm our relationship with Turkey as a NATO ally. Then again, maybe it will. And more importantly, maybe the Kurds wouldn't even want us in their country, mucking around with Iran. I think since this meme is relatively new to the debate on Iraq, it's best to wait for even more informed voices to weigh in before I come to a firmer opinion.

That being said, it's possible that my exploration of various possiblities in Iraq may leave a reader confused as to where I stand. Let me put it this way: if there is some mission that can be saved in Iraq by redeploying our troops, but in such a way that it vastly reduces casualties and doesn't destroy the country even more, then I'm in favor of it. But if there is significant doubt that any plan can work, then we should just get out, completely and as quickly as possible. If I favor what appears to be a senseless deployment in anyway, it is only because I know that-politically-it's a big first-step towards complete withdrawal. The clock is ticking for us in Iraq. It may be possible to delay complete withdrawal and salvage something by adopting a much more limited mission, but a final end to our mission there is inevitable and-I believe-not as far away as many people still think.


Eric said...

I don't know that the Turks will be so unaccepting of our presence in Kurdistan that it will irreparably harm our relationship with Turkey as a NATO ally.

The better question is: will they accept our presence enough to envisage allowing us to resupply our Kurdistan-based troops through Turkey?

Also, it's one thing to accept our presence, it's another to say that our presence should forestall any anti-PKK incursions by Turkey. They might accept our presence as long as they were able to take counter-measures against the PKK.

Even then, though, there is little doubt that it won't help the relationship. It's just a matter of the extent of the damage and willingness to cooperate re: supply lines as above.

Eric said...

And for the record, I would be in favor of a residual force if it could be shown to be effective, and that the resupply and force protection requirements wouldn't drive up the numbers of actual troops so as to make the "residual" illusory.

It's just that I haven't seen anyone point out how fewer troops can accomplish the same goals while not leaving them vulnerable re: resupply/force protection.

But I'm not doctrinaire about it. If there's an option, I'll listen.

Which is I think where you are too. Just wanted to clarify.

Nat-Wu said...

Well, here's a question. What could we do for the Kurds that would get them to stop the incursions into Turkey? You're right about that being a deal-breaker; our presence in Kurdistan would only by supportable if there were no longer any hostilities between the two nations.

Eric said...

The problem, as I see it, is that expanding Kurdistan to include parts of Eastern Turkey is the goal of the PKK - as supported by the Iraqi Kurdish leadership. They want to secede and form a union with Iraqi Kurdistan. What do you offer groups with those goals as an alternative that would also be acceptable to Turkey?

Perhaps there is something. I just don't know what it is - but I'm not an expert.

Nat-Wu said...

To take the cynical point of view, people can always be bought off. I'm not saying I would suggest we do this, but it's likely that if we opened up our coffers to the Iraqi Kurds, we could get them on our side, and with a savvy enough PR campaign even get them to think of the PKK as troublemakers, especially if we do appear to be making a deal with Turkey to benefit the Turkish Kurds.

Of course, we could do it the other way: tell Turkey to shut up and take our money or when we put our bases in Kurdish Iraq we'll be forced to arm the Kurds for our own protection.

Or we could turn the whole thing over to diplomats, which would be a completely non-Bushian approach, and they might actually come up with some kind of plan where people don't go to war and we get some of what we want.

Nat-Wu said...

As far as the plan overall, Kurdish Iraq is the only place where we can deploy troops within Iraq (assuming we follow the "hunker down" approach after withdrawal) where we'd have any kind of presence close enough to actually take action in Iraq. Otherwise we're talking about Marines coming in off their mobile bases, and as for Army there wouldn't be any.

Eric said...


Those are the most viable solutions, and they're not really viable. This says nothing of your abilities to come up with such solutions, just their impractability. I don't see the "buy off" as possible within our means, nor telling Turkey to mind their own business when this clearly is part of their business.