Now that NATO officially supports Turkey’s revitalized war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the Turks might soon request American weapons, intelligence and diplomatic assistance for their onslaught. When that time comes, we should say no.
Those who would again have us commit American resources to Turkish authoritarians ought to examine the past repercussions of their longstanding policy. From 1985 to 1995, the US government granted $5.3 billion worth of military "protection" to the Turkish government, endowments that at one point accounted for more than three-quarters of Turkey’s imported weaponry. In reality, this "protective" assistance facilitated the brutal repression of innocent Kurds in a state that prohibited the use of Kurdish languages in public spaces and accosted Kurdish civilians for their involvement in dissident political parties. In its effort to eradicate the PKK, the Turkish government incinerated Kurdish homes and wielded Western weapons to extirpate communities, to torture people wantonly, and to assassinate political opponents without trial.
The Turkish government’s illiberal streak still exists today. Over the past couple of weeks, the authorities have attacked antiwar protesters with water cannons and have detained hundreds of Kurdish activists upon the resurgence of Turkey’s war with the PKK. As people who often use Kurdish suffering to justify Western attacks in the Middle East, American statesmen should find this situation appalling.
But they do not. Instead, the Obama administration acquiesces to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in what appears to be a de facto exchange for American access to Turkish military bases. This tradeoff, ironically defended as a necessary hedge against ISIS and anti-American terrorism, will likely produce the exact opposite of what its purveyors intend. The Kurdish People’s Protection Units, after all, have been stalwart opponents of ISIS in Syria. If the West effectively invigorates the Turkish war against the PKK, the People’s Protection Units might very well join their Kurdish brethren in Iraq, leaving ISIS free to fill the newfound void.
Some Americans will not care though. Cognizant that ISIS lacks the military capacity to foment a successful invasion of the United States, they will sit idly by as our government consolidates its support for the Turks and undercuts some of ISIS’s most potent enemies. American-induced deaths and emboldened terrorist factions are foreigners’ problems, they say, not ours.
I urge them to think again. If they do not find it discomfiting that their tax dollars finance people’s suffering abroad, they should at least find it discomfiting that their money finances policies likely to induce the sort of anti-American sentiments that bred the atrocities of September 11, 2001. Lest we forget, Al-Qaeda affiliates detested all infidels but targeted the United States specifically because of the American government’s interventionist policies. They castigated "the protracted blockade" against Iraq, which Osama Bin Laden later called "the oppressing and embargoing to death of millions." They came to resent the American military presence in the Arabian Peninsula, the US war in Somalia, American support for the war on Chechnya, and the United States’ aid to multiple Middle Eastern leaders perceived to be anti-Muslim.
Warmongering, then, only fans the flames of animus that motivate people to become anti-Western terrorists. Therefore, if we wish to maintain the goodwill of the Kurds, if we truly respect their bodily autonomy, and if we desire to preserve our own, let us resist Turkish attempts to mire us further in the pandemonium unraveling in Western Asia. This fight is not ours.
Tommy Raskin is a contributor to the Good Men Project and Foreign Policy in Focus. He is also an intern at Antiwar.com.