Loose con­gres­sional lips

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion de­vised a plan to stave off the very se­ri­ous pos­si­bil­ity of Turk­ish mil­i­tary ac­tion in north­ern Iraq. It was po­ten­tially par­lous: U.S. spe­cial forces would work with the Turk­ish mil­i­tary to lo­cate and cap­ture lead­ers of a vi­o­lent Kur­dish rebel group. Covert ac­tion, clas­si­fied plan­ning and the ut­most se­crecy were re­quired — but so too were con­gres­sional brief­ings. Unim­pressed Capi­tol Hill denizens chucked pru­dence to the wind as one or more of the mem­bers present pre­sum­ably leaked the con­tent of brief­ings, con­ducted by Eric Edel­man, un­der­sec­re­tary of de­fense for pol­icy, to colum­nist Robert No­vak, un­der­min­ing U.S. in­ter­ests and ef­fec­tively scut­tling the plan’s chances at suc­cess.

“Edel­man’s lis­ten­ers were stunned,” Mr. No­vak writes. When some of the law­mak­ers at the se­cret brief­ing ex­pressed their con­cern, “[Mr. Edel­man] re­sponded that he was sure of suc­cess, adding that the U.S. role could be con­cealed and al­ways would be de­nied.” That is, un­til it ended up on the Op-Ed page of The Wash­ing­ton Post yes­ter­day. As­sign­ing spe­cial forces to as­sist the Turk­ish mil­i­tary against the PKK “risks ma­jor ex­po­sure and fail­ure,” Mr. No­vak notes in the same col­umn. Thanks to the loose-lipped law­maker — or law­mak­ers — at the brief­ing, “ex­po­sure” is no longer a risk but a full blown re­al­ity. If that was one of the stan­dards for fail­ure, then whoever saw it fit to share this highly sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion with Mr. No­vak has as­sured not only that this op­er­a­tion can­not suc­ceed, but that the United States suf­fers the diplo­matic fall­out with our Kur­dish al­lies that this news will pre­cip­i­tate.

The resur­gent Kur­dis­tan Work­ers Party (PKK), the vi­o­lent Kur­dish sep­a­ratists, op­er­ates from north­ern Iraq. Turkey’s pow­er­ful gen­er­als want to take mil­i­tary ac­tion even though the coun­try’s civil­ian lead­er­ship has, at U.S. in­sis­tence, shown more for­bear­ance on the is­sue. Wash­ing­ton can­not walk this diplo­matic tightrope in­def­i­nitely, and the sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Turk­ish troops amassed on the border with Iraq adds a new sense of ur­gency to the sit­u­a­tion. A cross-border mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion would dis­rupt the most stable part of Iraq and have se­ri­ous reper­cus­sions through­out the coun­try. The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion talked a tough line against the PKK, but Turks were anx­ious and be­lieved their con­cerns were not be­ing ad­e­quately ad­dressed. This kind of joint op­er­a­tion had the po­ten­tial to change that out­look.

There is good rea­son to think that the cap­ture of high-profile PKK lead­ers would have gone a long way to­ward al­ly­ing Turk­ish con­cerns and could have helped Wash­ing­ton per­suade Ankara to re­lax its mil­i­tary pres­ence along the Turkey-Iraq border. We can only spec­u­late as to whether the plan to use U.S. spe­cial forces would have been suc­cess­ful; now that it has been made pub­lic, the op­er­a­tion has been se­verely com­pro­mised — if it hasn’t been forced off the ta­ble al­to­gether.

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