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20.2.03

There's a lot of talk going around now about the possibility that Turkey could refuse to let the US use its military bases as the starting point for opening up a northern front in the war on Iraq. Turkey is demanding a hefty sum of money from the US, and US officials are publicizing plans for an attack that can work without Turkish cooperation. But I think that Turkey will come around in the end.

It makes sense for Turkey to drag its feet. The current government got to power and derives its legitimacy from popular support, which would be undermined by seeming too eager to side with the US (in Turkey, as in most nations outside the Anglophone world, popular opinion is decidedly dovish). Further, Turkey's number one foreign policy goal is to join the EU, and Turkey must be well aware that France -- which dominates the EU along with fellow dove Germany -- doesn't plan to look kindly on EU hopefuls who help the US in the war.

But Turkey also has to know that it can't stop the war. The demands for aid and military involvement that Turkey has made are meant to offset the costs the war will impose on the nation. The biggest cost, in the minds of Turkish leaders, is the potential for instability among the Kurds. Turkey is paranoid about the prospects of an independent or autonomous Kurdistan, as well as a repeat of the influx of refugees (many of them militant) that followed the Gulf War. Turkey will bear that cost whether or not American troops march through Turkish territory. Indeed, the cost will be greater if Turkey doesn't cooperate with the US, because Turkey won't have permission to take control of Iraqi Kurdish areas (as has been promised in cooperation deals) to prevent Kurdish uprisings. Further, if the US is freed from the need to make concessions to Turkey, it can more easily side with the Kurds, granting them greater autonomy than it would have otherwise, and doing less to control the refugee problem.

So Turkey's choice is essentially to face the consequences of war with, or without, American aid. While it's understandable that Turkey would hold out for the best deal it can get, ultimately it will take America's best offer over no offer.

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