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Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2007

Consistency, proportionality and hypocris


LONDON — Fifteen months ago, the armed wing of Lebanon's Hezbollah party, listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and most other Western countries, attacked Israel's northern border, capturing two Israeli soldiers and killing eight more. Israel replied with a month of massive air attacks all across Lebanon that destroyed much of the country's infrastructure, leveled a good deal of south Beirut, and killed around a thousand Lebanese civilians.

Washington, London, Ottawa and some other Western capitals insisted that this was a reasonable and proportionate response, and shielded Israel from intense diplomatic pressure to stop the attacks even when Israel launched a land invasion of southern Lebanon in early August 2006. The operation only ended when Israeli casualties on the ground mounted rapidly and the Israeli government pulled its troops back.

So what would be a reasonable and proportionate Turkish response to the recent attacks by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and most other Western countries, from northern Iraq into southeastern Turkey? More than 40 Turkish civilians and soldiers have been killed in these attacks over the past two weeks, and a further eight Turkish soldiers were captured.

Well, it would be unreasonable for Turkey to bomb Iraq, where the PKK's bases are, for any more than one month. It would be quite disproportionate for the Turkish Air Force to level more than a small part of Baghdad — say, 15,000 homes. Ideally, it should leave Baghdad alone and restrict itself to destroying some Kurdish-populated city in northern Iraq near Turkey's own border. Moreover, when the Turks do invade Iraq on the ground, they should restrict themselves to the northern border strip where the PKK's bases are.

What's that? Washington is asking Turkey to show restraint and not attack Iraq at all? Even after the Kurdish terrorists killed or kidnapped all those Turkish people? Could it be that Turkish lives are worth less than Israeli lives?

Never mind. At least the U.S. officially classes the PKK as a terrorist organization and refuses to let its officials have any contact with it. But what's this? There is a parallel terrorist organization called the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), essentially a branch office of the PKK, also based in northern Iraq, which carries out attacks into the adjacent Kurdish-populated region of Iran, and the U.S. does not condemn the PJAK? It even sends its officials to have friendly chats with the PJAK terrorists? How odd.

The PJAK's leader, Rahman Haj-Ahmadi, paid an unofficial visit to Washington last summer. One of his close associates, Biryar Gabar, claims to have "normal dialogue" with U.S. officials, according to a recent report in The New York Times — and the American military spokesman in Baghdad, Cmdr. Scott Rye, issued a carefully structured nondenial saying that "The consensus is that U.S. forces are not working with or advising the PJAK."

Gabar also said that PJAK fighters have killed at least 150 Iranian soldiers and officials in the past three months. That's a lot more people than the PKK have killed in Turkey in the same time, and yet neither Washington nor any other Western country has expressed sympathy for Iran.

Could it be that Iranian lives are worth even less than Turkish lives?

And here's something even more peculiar. Iran, like Turkey, is already shelling Kurdish villages on the Iraqi side of the frontier that it suspects of sheltering or supplying the PKK/PJAK. How come U.S. President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney simply ignore these actions, when they have been working hard for the past year to build a case for attacking Iran?

We are told that Iran is supporting the anti-American insurgency in Iraq. Bush even warned us last week that a nuclear-armed Iran (which he insists is coming) would lead to "World War III." So if they're that keen to attack Iran, why don't Bush and Cheney use the fact that Iranian artillery shells are falling on Kurdish villages in northern Iraq almost every day as a pretext for the attack? Are they getting cold feet?

I sincerely hope so, because the consequences of such an attack would be catastrophic. On the other hand, I doubt it, because they keep on painting themselves into a corner with their tongues. As Pat Buchanan noted on MSNBC's "Hardball" last week: "Cheney and Bush are laying down markers for themselves which they're going to have to meet. I don't see how . . . Bush and Cheney can avoid attacking Iran and (still retain) their credibility going out of office."

The U.S. military "assets" for an attack on Iran are all in place, so it can't be that. Maybe the delay means that Bush and Cheney are having difficulty in persuading the military professionals to go along with this hare-brained scheme. Most senior American military officers see an attack on Iran as leading to inevitable failure and humiliation for the U.S., and the last thing the White House wants is a rash of U.S. generals resigning in protest when it orders the attack.

On the other hand, Bush is still the commander in chief, and how many American generals resigned when he committed the somewhat lesser folly of invading Iraq? Only one, and he did it very quietly.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.


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