Thursday, 9 October 2014

Turkey, the Kurds & Isis: When good men do nothing

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke
Images of Turkish tanks sat idly on the Syrian border, within sight of Isis forces less than 2km away, where extremists have penned in Kurdish defenders in the border town of Kobani / Kobane, are frustrating to watch.

Turkey’s government has already agreed that it can intervene, yet it hasn’t. The awkward truth is that Turkey is reluctant to help an old foe to fight against a far greater evil.

But the Turks are gambling instead on the power of US-led airstrikes to hit Isis positions, and hold back the Islamic extremists, hoping the hard-pressed and bleeding Kurds can win back the border town, without any Turkish support on the ground, without Turkey having to suffer the awkwardness of helping Kurdish arms.

The decision to take that unnecessary gamble, when Turkey easily has the power to intervene unilaterally (despite whatever its government may say to the contrary), is a foolish one based on pride and stubbornness.

Should Isis prevail in this battle, the militants would gain a border stronghold from which to smuggle oil exports out and smuggle foreign fighters in - boosting their numbers and their coffers.

Honestly, it probably won’t come to that, the US and her allies will do all they can by air. They could even decide to send in special forces, or not. But Turkey has thousands of troops sat watching from yards away, and whatever happens, it should be noted they are behaving despicably.

The Kurds have been engaged in violent struggle for their own rights within Turkey, and for independence, for generations. It is an internal security problem which Turkey, much like Britain and the Northern Ireland Troubles, created for itself. Too much arrogance; too much confrontation; too little compromise.

And across the border in Iraq, Saddam gassed and murdered thousands of Kurds from the air, but they kept fighting the Iraqi dictator until the loosening of Baghdad’s grip over its northernmost provinces has led to them achieving a level of independence close to statehood today within the Kurdish region of Iraq. 

The swing in Kurdish fortunes is viewed suspiciously from Turkey. So, the Turkish soldiers watch and do nothing. They spare the use of force for Kurds on their side of the border, killing several and preventing them from crossing to assist their Kurdish brothers in arms across the border.

The situation reminds me of two sad stories from history, about comparably evil powers, and amidst a struggle which was only overcome through a vast coalition of allied nations. 

The first is certainly not about a good man. Stalin's cynical halt on the Vistula callously watched two rivals exhaust themselves in Warsaw. The Soviet leader kept his tanks idly watching, while brave Polish Home army resistance fighters fought to the death and died battling Hitler’s SS troops in 1944’s doomed Warsaw Uprising. Only then, having waited to allow one potential postwar opponent to be wiped out, while weakening common Nazi enemy, did the Russian dictator resume his westward advance across Poland and onto Berlin.

The second is Ireland’s government's stance during the Second World War, clinging to neutrality, despite the fate that would have met all Europe’s smaller nations if Hitler had been allowed to triumph in his war. Yes, many brave individual Irishmen volunteered to serve in the British and Commonwealth forces to fight Nazi Germany, while kind Irish civilians in the country’s remote coastal towns tenderly cared for bedraggled mariners swept ashore with the flotsam of the Battle of the Atlantic. More good men could have been saved from death and sorrow at the hands of an evil enemy, given Ireland's full-bodied help in that fight.

The Irish Free State simply could not swallow its resentment against the British in order to fight alongside Britain and the Allies against Naziism. Ireland then, like Turkey today, would have come off with more dignity intact if it had done the right thing and fought on the right side.