"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Moral Clarity 

Relativism is out of fashion these days, if indeed it ever was in fashion. The soundbite that probably best captures the essence of the times is George Bush, speaking two months after the World Trade Center fell: "You are with us, or with the terrorists. And if you are with the terrorists, you will face the consequences."

Maybe. Then again, maybe our moral absolutism is a relative thing, after all.

Consider, for example, this hypothetical - suppose there is a stateless ethnic group living in some Middle Eastern country. Suppose that members of a militia, working on behalf of this stateless group, cross the border into the territory of a United States ally, and attack both military and civilian targets there in an effort to eject that particular ally from disputed territory (which the guerrillas consider their own homeland). The government of this particular ally wants to respond with airstrikes against the infrastructure which supports the guerrillas. How should the United States respond to these circumstances?

Some might say that our ally should show restraint. Some might say that, despite a mounting number of casualties inflicted by the cross-border insurgents, our ally should be patient and allow the mechanism of international diplomacy time to work.

And among those who would say such a thing is our own government:
Israel launched airstrikes on Lebanon in response to attacks by Hizbullah earlier this month, and George W. Bush called it "self-defense." But what to tell the Turks, who over the last week lost 15 soldiers to terror attacks launched by separatist Kurds from neighboring Iraq? Many Turkish leaders are pressing for cross-border tactical air assaults on the guerrillas. But Bush, fearing yet another escalation of the Middle East's violence, urged Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to hold off. "The message was, unilateral action isn't going to be helpful," says a senior U.S. official, describing the 15-minute phone conversation. "The president asked for patience."

And so Turkish forces are holding fast — for now — in deference to their half-century alliance with the United States. But that patience is bound to be challenged, probably sooner than later. Domestic political pressures are building to take a leaf from Israel's book and hit back at the guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK. Since the beginning of the year, attacks on Turkish military garrisons and police stations have escalated across the country's southeast, along with random shootings, bombings and protests — many of them, authorities suspect, organized in Iraq. Already the Turkish military has laid detailed plans for possible helicopter-and-commando assaults, government sources tell NEWSWEEK. Meanwhile, Ankara's frustration with Washington has grown palpable. For all the Bush administration's repeated promises to crack down on the PKK, little if anything has happened. With elections coming next year, Erdogan could be pardoned for soon concluding that his forbearance might prove politically dangerous. "Moderate, liberal people in Turkey are becoming increasingly anti-American," warns Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. "That isn't good."

So, there you have it - you're either with us, or with the terrorists. Except when you're not. The irony here, of course, is that the administration is actually right when it comes to Turkey and the Kurds, but is unable to apply the lesson elsewhere.
***

In other Armageddon-related news, here's the funniest thing I read all day (dateline: Bizarro World):
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has cautioned Syria and Iran that they face further isolation if they try to scupper US-led attempts to get a ceasefire between Lebanon and Israel.

 

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