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Remember, remember the fifth of November

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Remember, remember the fifth of November
The warmongering, treason, and plot,
I know of no reason why the Bush treason
Should ever be forgot.

No, this fifth of November, President Bush won't sneak into the cellars of Congress to blow the House and Senate up (why should he, with them doing his bidding like a collective Sancho Panza for a modern Don Quixote chasing windmills with cruise missiles?). There are other reasons for this fifth of November not being forgotten. When President Bush meets Recep Tayyip Erdogan on this day, not only the future of Turkey's policy towards Northern Iraq and the PKK but also the course for war with Iran will be decided on. November 5, 2007, may not culminate in a firework but carry destruction through the diplomatic backdoor and entail future conflagration of historic dimensions. Guy Fawkes heroically failed to set the British Parliament afire, but if George Bush succeeds in talking the Turkish Prime Minister into accepting a deal, he may set the whole Middle East afire.

It may disgruntle Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid (although I doubt them believing it themselves) but not the Democratic-led Congress, nor soft-power-glorifying Europe see-sawing between Angela Merkel's pragmatism, Gordon Brown's lack of leadership, and Nicolas Sarkozy seeking a place under America's sun, and certainly not the current Democratic presidential hopeful are the biggest obstacles for George Bush to unleash shock and awe against Tehran. With their overt challenge against Turkey's moderate-Islamist government the roughly 5,000 rabble-rousers of the PKK, who can claim as much legitimacy to represent the Kurdish people's majority will as Tom Tancredo America's, are the prime spoilers for George Bush to crown himself with the laurel of a third war lost.

To attack Iran George Bush relies on the vital Incirlik Air Base, home to the 39 ABW, as a strategic hub, unimpaired flow of supplies across the Iraqi-Turkish border, the cooperation of the Kurdish Regional Government in Arbil as well as the Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistanê (PJAK), PKK's less radical equivalent in Iran, to launch an all-out guerilla war tying as many Pasdaran, Islamic Revolutionary Guards, in the inhospitable Zagros Mountains as they can. The latter alliance was given a rehearsal with this August's PJAK offensive in Iran and its leader Rahman Haj-Ahmadi at the same time visiting Washington - on no official mission, of course. With the Shiite south of Iraq rising up in case of an attack on Iran being a given, the northern front gains even more prominence in the Pentagon's contingency plans. The least George Bush and the Podhoretz-faction of chickenhawks need now is their carefully crafted alliance among the various Kurdish groups to fall apart and their prime theater of war turning into a Lebanon-like quicksand-mass-grave for the Turkish army.

Make no mistake, the PKK has its back to the wall. They want this war, they need this war. Their ultra-Marxist ideology and Shining Path-like leadership cult makes them less and less attractive to ordinary Kurds in Turkey, who for the first time in almost a century are allowed to participate in the current economic boom and were granted first tangible yet always improvable minority rights. They appreciated these reforms by supporting Erdogan at the polls above average, thus turning the Kurdish south into an AKP-heartland. One can hardly imagine a more forceful slap in the face for the PKK. In their despair they hope to pull off a similar stunt as Hezbollah in 2006: draw the Turkish army into the Kandil Mountains, inflict an at least propagandistically exploitable defeat on them, trepan them into brutal excesses that will rally Kurdish-national and international support for them, and, ideally, internationalize the conflict by leaving the Kurdish Regional Government with no choice but to ally with them. Erdogan's reforms and election victory have made such a high risk gamble mandatory, Washington unable to antagonize them and courting PJAK like a valentine has let it appear accomplishable.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan isn't in an admirable position either. With its martial rhetoric and the parliament giving carte blanche for an invasion of Northern Iraq the Turkish government has gone out on a limb. Like Hillary Clinton Erdogan has tried to outrun the right on the right and now is expected by the public, whose nationalist pride has been humiliated by the PKK responding to their threats with increased attacks, to walk the talk. After 24 futile raids into Iraq over the last decades Erdogan has no reason to believe the 25th to result in anything but a stalemate at best, him sharing Ehud Olmert's fate or something even less pleasant at worst. Yet if he doesn't play the strong-man now, the ultra-hawkish military establishment around Turkey's Curtis LeMay, Yasar Büyükanit, will have finally found a reason to topple him the public would support. As reluctantly as Dick Cheney would acquiesce in having dinner with Cindy Sheehan, Erdogan will thus walk down the path leading to war, praying for a limited engagement.

He'll be joined in his prayers by George Bush. Washington augurs recently have interpreted everything from a handful of local chieftains in al-Anbar province entering a temporary alliance with U.S. forces to the flight of birds looking promising this season as signs of President Bush having recovered his mojo. The surge is obviously working and Congress and the Democratic frontrunner have given him carte blanche to attack Iran whenever the next Damascus epiphany strikes him, so why not move on to pastures new and leave the stage with a big bang? Even the most sober-minded analysts admit that over the last weeks the hawks in Washington and Tehran have gained the whip hand over the voices of reason. Newsweek's Michael Hirsh, one of the leading experts on Iran, sums up the last weeks' developments as,
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"… the administration has been on a unilateralist tear against Iran once again, issuing hawkish rhetoric that far outpaces anything heard in European capitals. On Thursday the White House announced a broad array of sanctions that affect almost the entire Iranian government … The dynamic duo that brought us the war in Iraq, Bush and Cheney, appear to be on the same page once again. In Tehran, meanwhile, the Iranian government now seems united around one idea: Iran will not give up "one iota" of its nuclear program, in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's words. The resignation of chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani this week, and his replacement by a close ally of Ahmadinejad's, Saeed Jalili (Larijani and the Iranian president were bitter rivals), is one strong sign that this hardened position will continue. As a Larijani ally in Tehran told me Thursday, the hard-line president likes to dominate "inexperienced and unprofessional people" like Jalili."

On November 5, we'll know more about how the land lies. President Bush will try to get Turkey to differentiate between the PKK and the Kurdish Regional Government and restrict itself to imposing economic sanctions. Cornered Prime Minister Erdogan will happily accept any reasonable offer that would allow him to save face, even if it comes at the price of tacitly accepting a showdown with Iran. Even hawks like Presidents Talabani and Barzani as well as General Büyükanit appear to have accepted Washington assuming control of events, ideally leading to U.S. troops patrolling the Turkish-Iraqi border to prevent the PKK from crossing it at their leisure. Yet this uncommon role for George Bush as a dove of peace doesn't come without the hidden agenda to prevent or at least limit one war for being able to wage another. When celebrating President Bush for having defused this powder keg we should keep in mind, though, that he might just have removed the last remaining obstacle to gain free hand to face Iran in spring.


On a personal note, if I'm allowed to, the triangle, Turkey-Iran-Kurds, in view of the war planning on Iran is at the heart of my new political novel, The Writing on the Wall, available on Amazon and in local bookstores.
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http://www.hannesartens.com/
Hannes Artens, MAs in History, Political Science, and International Conflict Analysis, was associated with the Carter Center and an academic think tank advising the German Parliament on U.S. foreign policy. The Writing on the Wall, the first (more...)
 

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