To the Editor:
In his description of the hostile geopolitical environment confronting the Bush administration during the drawn-out prelude to Operation Iraqi Freedom [“Lessons of the War,” June], Victor Davis Hanson resorts to unmistakably derogatory rhetoric when he calls Turkey a “suddenly fickle ally.” This all-too prevalent sentiment was prominently expressed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who in an interview with CNN berated the Turkish military for having failed to ensure compliance with American demands. “They did not play the strong leadership role that we would have expected,” Wolfowitz said. But in light of the Turkish military’s historically volatile relationship with that country’s fragile democracy, such rebukes carry ominous implications.
Ever since Kemal Ataturk forged a secular Turkish state, the military has assumed the role of guardian, intervening when the government is perceived to be threatening its staunchly secular values. (An example occurred in the late 1990’s with the government headed by Necmettin Erbakan, which was deemed too Islamic.) The government that welcomed Wolfowitz during his visit last December was led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose moderate Islamic party had swept to power in Ankara just a few weeks prior. Although Erdogan, wooed with a reported aid package of $5 billion, supported the stationing of U.S. forces on Turkish soil for the purpose of attacking Iraq, he was ultimately unable to win over the democratically elected parliament. According to an opinion poll by the Pew Research Center conducted during the height of the diplomatic maneuvering, 83 percent of the Turkish public opposed allowing U.S. forces to invade Iraq from their soil.
Since the United States waged this war for the ostensible purpose of bringing democracy to the region, the actions of the Turkish parliament amounted to a beautiful if painful affront to American power. What Mr. Hanson calls “fickle” behavior, although it complicated U.S. combat operations during the war, was in fact a rare showing of democratic strength in the Middle East. Coupled with Saddam Hussein’s ouster, Turkey’s actions are cause for optimism about the future of democracy in the Middle East; Mr. Hanson’s misguided denunciations are cause for great concern.
Evan R. Goldstein
To the Editor:
Victor Davis Hanson’s article is a fascinating introduction to what we have learned about war in the Middle East. But it is surprising that an article discussing the Iran-Iraq war and the entangled web of past military alliances fails to mention the United States’ involvement in funding and arming Iraq before, during, and after that war, much less the fact that this aid continued even after we knew of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran. This seems a significant omission.
San Diego, California
To the Editor:
In “Lessons of the War,” Victor Davis Hanson writes: “On April 17, 2002, the Guardian called the supposed massacre at Jenin ‘every bit as repellent as Osama bin Laden’s attack on New York.’ ” This is far from a fair, full, and accurate quotation. Here, for comparison, are the pertinent sentences from the original article: “Jenin camp looks like the scene of a crime. Its concrete rubble and tortured metal evokes another horror half a world away in New York, smaller in scale but every bit as repellent in its particulars, no less distressing, and every bit as man-made.” While I concede that the sense is more or less synonymous, Mr. Hanson’s charge is, strictly speaking, fallacious.
I am not writing to dispute the bent of Mr. Hanson’s article—indeed I might agree with it in large part—but in light of the recent New York Times scandal, I am perturbed that a tendency to distort, misrepresent, or fabricate facts appears to be a widespread phenomenon in publications across the political spectrum.
To the Editor:
“Lessons of the War” is the single best article I have read on the Middle East in general and on Iraq in particular. As a disabled army veteran of Desert Storm with a deep-vested interest in the second Gulf war, I can say that Victor Davis Hanson has captured the essence not only of Iraq but of the Middle East itself. Thanks for telling the facts as they are.
Staff Sergeant Greg
Victor Davis Hanson writes:
A hypersensitive Evan R. Goldstein thinks my use of the sober phrase “fickle behavior” to describe Turkey’s eleventh-hour refusal to allow the intervention of American troops from its soil deserves to be characterized as “unmistakably derogatory rhetoric,” carrying “ominous implications” and leading to “misguided denunciations.” How silly. First, Mr. Goldstein wrongly implies that legitimate anger at a democratic ally somehow constitutes pressure against the institutions of democracy per se. But we often criticize our democratic allies, just as they criticize us when they or their constituencies are at odds with our policies. Consider Gerhard Schroeder’s anti-American rhetoric during his recent reelection campaign in Germany—and our reaction to it.
Second, no one thinks that other democracies, by their nature, will or must always be in lockstep with us. Along with France, Turkey has gravitated to the status of a neutral like (democratic) Sweden and (democratic) Austria, which also forbade the transit of American troops. Even so, we respect and welcome Turkey’s strong democratic voice, just as, one hopes, the Turks respect and welcome ours.
Finally, Mr. Goldstein misstates the gravity of what happened. The sudden refusal of a NATO ally to allow us to attack neighboring Iraq from its soil did more than “complicate U.S. combat operations.” Forget the series of abrupt reversals in Turkish policy, the constant stream of mixed signals, the demand for billions of dollars in new aid, and the often virulent anti-Americanism expressed on the Turkish street. The last-minute refusal caused the entire Iraq campaign to be revamped, forcing the long column from Kuwait that resulted in unnecessary American deaths. Much of the present unrest in the so-called “Sunni triangle” is, moreover, directly attributable to the fact that the Fourth Infantry Division was not able to barrel down from Turkey in the war’s first few days to spread over and subdue Saddam’s heartland, cut off the Tikrit-Baghdad highway, and enter Baghdad from the north. Other foreseeable problems in the months ahead are similarly likely to hinge less on American harshness to Turkey than on Turkey’s treatment of the democratic and federal state in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Along with David Foster, I worry that too much American military aid ends up in the hands of frightening regimes—most recently, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority. But, in real dollars, the help we extended to Saddam Hussein’s evil autocracy amounted to less than the guns and money that have cumulatively gone to Yasir Arafat’s cabal, and was confined almost entirely to the period before and during the Iran-Iraq war.
It was, to be sure, a misguided, immoral, and regrettable policy, but two considerations must be kept in mind even as we express necessary remorse. First, in response to the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, the Iranian-backed mass murders in Lebanon, and the declared promise of the Khomeini mullocracy to wage perpetual war against the West, our government adopted a policy much like the one we followed in helping a mass-murdering Soviet Union destroy Hitler in World War II, or in helping the odious mujahideen to eject Russian imperialists from Afghanistan in the late 1970’s.
Second, recent studies of our military aid to Saddam Hussein show that only a small fraction of Iraq’s overall pre-1991 arsenal was purchased from American arms dealers. That is nothing to be proud of, but it remains an interesting fact in light of the world’s silence toward France, Russia, Germany, China, and other countries that sold to Iraq the vast majority of its reconstituted munitions post-1991, and until fairly recently.
Chris Shannon, implying that I use the same tactics as a now discredited New York Times writer, suggests that my reference to an editorial in the London Guardian was somehow unfair. He then refutes his own quibble by supplying additional quotes from the Guardian that amplify its indefensible comparison of Israeli actions in Jenin with the attack on the World Trade Center. He could better have spent his time examining why the Guardian, along with the Evening Standard, the London Times, the Independent, and other British and European papers, simply lied about both the details and the motives of the Israeli incursion—a strike that was far more measured and humane than other such interventions in Grozny, Serbia, and Mogadishu. Mr. Shannon apparently does not get it: despite what the Guardian says, there is absolutely no moral comparison to be drawn between the mass murder of 3,000 civilians by terrorists in peacetime and a nation’s exercise of its sovereign right to deploy its soldiers to hunt down the agents of mass murder during a period of war.
I thank Staff Sergeant Greg J. Babiarz for his kind words, and in common with other Americans express my gratitude for his military service to the United States and the deep sacrifices he has made on behalf of all of us.