Northern — i.e., Kurdish — Iraq has been nearly autonomous since American and British air forces established the “no-fly” zones in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. Oil-rich and less divided by tribal and sectarian allegiances than Iraqi provinces to the south, the Kurdish region is ethnically aligned with southeastern Turkey.
Since the late 1990s, the Kurdish terrorist group PKK has been raiding into Turkey 2003. The legitimate Kurdish leaders — including Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and President Massoud Barzani — were not thought to be aiding the PKK, just unable or unwilling to act against them. But now our most underappreciated ally — Turkey — has run out of patience with the PKK. And with Barzani and Talabani.
On November 28, the Turkish parliament gave the Erdogan government authority to conduct military action inside Iraq. Last weekend, there were major Turkish air raids against PKK forces in Iraq and only a few days ago, Turkish troops were fighting PKK terrorists in a battle fought miles inside Iraq.
Turkish Ambassador US Nabi Sensoy told me his government is acting because the Barzani — Talabani Kurdish leadership has been actively supporting the PKK and has not cooperated with Turkish efforts to put down the PKK. According to Amb. Sensoy, the Kurdish leadership has been directly supporting PKK by providing weapons, food and shelter. The Turks have apparently cut off talks with the Kurdish leaders and are now decided on a military solution to PKK terrorism.
Kurdish President Barzani refused to meet with Secretary of State Condi Rice earlier this week during her surprise visit to Iraq. Barzani’s snub effectively precluded Rice from achieving the principal goal of the trip. As a result she failed to influence, far less defuse, a small war that may quickly grow larger. The Turks are serious about putting down the PKK.
Turkey — an invaluable cornerstone of NATO for decades — is our only Muslim ally. And it plays a key role in American diplomacy with Arab regimes. In the recent Annapolis peace process conference, for example, Turkey conducted back-channel negotiations with Syria for our State Department, resulting in Syrian participation. “Whatever is asked of us, we are ready to play that role,” said Amb. Sensoy. But to ask for more patience with the PKK and Kurdish leaders is to ask too much of the Turks.
The Expectations Game
The latest national polls call it a dead heat between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican nomination. Mike Huckabee runs only three points behind the tied leaders. But this long horserace is a long way from over. In about two weeks the Iowa Republican caucus will give someone the first win. But who?
Mike Huckabee’s sudden rise is reminiscent of another candidate’s perceived strength months ago. Before Fred Thompson officially began his campaign on September 6, the expectations were he’d bury the competition merely by announcing. He didn’t.
The Iowa irony may be that the “Huckaboom” — raising expectations for Huckabee the way they were for Thompson three months ago — may be deflated. There’s another factor in Iowa, and it is Thompson himself. A new energy seems to have infused the former Tennessee senator, and his vow to spend every day until January 3 in Iowa campaigning may just translate into a surprisingly strong finish for him in Iowa. The expectations game may work to his advantage.
The game has all the candidates riding a media-generated roller coaster through the early primaries (and the eventual nominee will do the same through the election.) First, Romney was supposed to win Iowa handily. Then Huckabee was supposed to have toppled Romney. Now Thompson is gaining. How much?
Conservatives have been complaining about Thompson’s lack of progress since September. The punditry created an expectation that Thompson’s first two weeks would be overwhelmingly brilliant. And they weren’t. But, now, Thompson is proving it’s way too early to count him out.
The expectations game always favors the underdog. Working hard, Thompson could be the big surprise in Iowa. If he finishes even a strong second, the national polls will take another sharp turn.
Congress Abandons SCHIP
Thanks to some skillful maneuvering by GOP Senate and House leaders, the Dems suffered a string of defeats just before recessing for the Christmas holiday.
On the House side, GOP leaders scored when the State Childrens’ Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was renewed without the huge expansion Democrats wanted to — in effect — create the first middle-class entitlement program. Not only wasn’t SCHIP expanded, Republicans managed to negotiate an extension of the current program until 2009, effectively taking it off the table during the 08 elections.
Senate Republicans scored an even bigger win when Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) managed to both introduce and then pass his war funding amendment. The McConnell measure replaces limited (both in dollar amount and legislative language on withdrawal) war funding with $70 billion in unrestricted funds for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Blue Dog Democrats were embarrassed (again) by the Alternative Minimum Tax temporary fix which wasn’t offset by a tax increase, thereby violating the Dems’ “pay-go” rule which the Blue Dogs supposedly made their blood oath.
Worst of all the Dems have — again — delayed the hard work on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which expires on February 1. When Congress comes back on January 22, they will have only nine calendar days to produce a bill that the president will sign. Harry Reid pulled the bill off the Senate schedule Monday after Sen. Chris Dodd’s filibuster was overridden because the big issues — civil immunity for telecommunications companies and not extending the requirement for FISA court warrants to intercepting terrorists communications overseas — remain unresolved. Reid could have taken the loss on FISA and had it behind him when the new year begins. Now, he’s set himself up for a major defeat that will set the bitter tone for another legislative year.
In a little-reported maneuver, Reid also blocked appointments to the Federal Election Commission, which means the agency won’t be able to act at all in until its sole commissioner is joined by the number of others required to make a functioning majority. What are the Dems up to that they don’t want the FEC to operate in 2008?
As the year ends, the GOP leaders on both sides of the Hill look pretty good. Then again, it’s not hard to look good when your competition is Reid and Pelosi.