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Turkey May Vote Tomorrow on Granting U.S. Access to Air Bases

Aired March 17, 2003 - 15:41   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Now while this was going on, we have word that there may be some movement on the position of Turkey. You heard Jack Straw talking about the situation with Turkey. Michael Ancram asking him some questions about it. There may, in fact, be a vote in parliament tomorrow in Turkey to discuss the issue of U.S. access at the very least to those air bases.
Probably too late right now and a moot issue for the fourth infantry, which is still in ships out at sea, unable to use Turkish territory to get into northern Iraq. But nevertheless, there are strategic U.S. air bases, primarily Incirlik, which would be critical for a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Let's turn it now to one of our better experts on this whole situation, Ken Pollack, author of "The Threatening Storm," the case for invading Iraq, who is also with the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. I don't know if you could hear this debate, Ken, but it seems to me that what is happening in Britain right now, at least if you get a flavor of the debate, is there's a little bit rallying around the union jack, the close it gets to imminence, there is less of a debate and there is more support for the troops in the field.

KEN POLLACK, KENNETH POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: I think that's right, Miles. I think that, in particular, the point you made is an important one, that the one thing that Tony Blair has going for him is that he is from the labor party. And the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), his opposition, are to the right of him, and they are more supportive than he has.

So the real problem that Tony Blair has is from within his own party, within the labor party. And I think it remains to be seen what kind of revolt he might face. Most of the expertise over here on this side of the Atlantic seems to be that for Tony Blair it's going to come down very much to how the war goes.

If the war goes well, if it is quick, if there are relatively few casualties on all sides, if the Iraqis are happy to be liberated, Tony Blair is going to look like the first great statesman of the 21st century and probably will be able to deal with any problems in his own party. On the other hand, if the war goes poorly, he may be overthrown by his own party, rather than by the British voters.

O'BRIEN: So this vote tomorrow, in essence, becomes sort of a vote of confidence in his leadership at this point? Or is that taking it too far? POLLACK: No, I think that may be taking it a bit too far. I'm not an expert on British politics, but my sense is, again, as you point out, the British parliament understands where they are now. They understand that the war is going to happen. And I think that they all do recognize, by and large, that Britain's troops do need to participate. But the real referendum for Tony Blair is going to be the war itself and whether it goes well or goes poorly.

If it goes well, he will be a hero. If it goes poorly, he may well be the scapegoat.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about this issue of Turkey, another vote to watch tomorrow in the Turkish parliament. Perhaps addressing the issue, possibly allowing a green light for, at the very least, over- flights, use of Incirlik to engage in attacks, it's worth pointing out here that the northern no-fly zone has been policed with aircraft based out of Incirlik. So I guess the question is, what is the real issue here?

POLLACK: Well, there are -- you're right. It is a very good question, Miles. But there are two issues.

First, the United States would like to be able to mount a larger air campaign out of Turkey against northern Iraq. That means getting over-flight rights for the carriers. Right now it looks like the Pentagon has worked out some agreements with some of the southern countries in the region, but still it would be much better if those planes could over-fly Turkey and strike at targets in northern Iraq.

In addition, we do want to get some troops into northern Iraq. And regardless of where those troop comes from or what they are, having Turkey and having the ability to supply them through Turkey will make life much easier. The fourth infranty division, as you pointed out, is still bobbing off the coast of Turkey. It would be great to get those forces in place, if only for the post-war occupation of Iraq.

And beyond that, the plans seem to be that the military is going to fly in air mobile units, airborne brigades either from Italy or form Kuwait, fly them into northern Iraq. It would still be much easier if we had the use of Turkish bases and Turkish air space to resupply those units once they've been dropped.

O'BRIEN: How much of the desire for having ground troops there is out of concern about the Kurdish question and whether our concentration in the situation in Baghdad might encourage either the Kurds or the Turks or both to go at it with each other, and it might be best to have our own U.S. troops on the ground?

POLLACK: You're really touching on the key issue here, Miles, which is that, while it would be nice to have the second front in the north, and certainly it would be great to be able to use the road network -- that's one of the problems we have in the south. We have a big force there that we're afraid is going to clog up the roads in the south. So it's nice to have the fourth infantry use a different road. The biggest issue out there is keeping the Kurds and the Turks from coming to blows. The administration has worked very hard to convince the Kurds and the Turks that if they take unilateral action, things can spiral out of hand. But the administration, I think, is very right to believe that if we don't have forces in place, things could still come apart.

The Turks and Kurds deeply distrust each other, and the slightest little moves by one side could cause the other one to respond and lead to a real nasty spiral down into conflict. But neither of them is going to want to get into any kind of a fight with U.S. forces. So if we've got troops in on the ground in Kurdistan, that's our best chance to keep the Kurds and Turks from coming to blows.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's talk briefly here -- one final question -- about this critical period from the moment of this speech tonight until the actual bombs might start dropping. The concern is that this is the most perilous time in many ways because of what action Saddam Hussein might be tempted to try. Some sort of offensive action, specifically the use of chemical weapons.

You have studied Saddam Hussein as much as anybody in the West. What does your gut tell you about that?

POLLACK: Well, look, what my gut first tells me is you don't make a lot of money betting against something that Saddam Hussein won't do. He's capable of doing just about anything. And he's done some incredibly stupid things in the past.

But in this case, it doesn't seem to really fit with his strategy that he would use chemical weapons preemptively. What you've heard from Barbara Starr earlier today is that he seems to be releasing them to the Republican Guards around Baghdad. That makes sense. He will use them to help the Republican Guard defend Baghdad.

Lobbing a bunch of chemicals at our forces in Kuwait could certainly cause some casualties for us, but it's not going to prevent the invasion from taking place. And what's more, it's the one thing in this world that is going to help the Bush administration right now, because it will rally every country in the world behind the Bush administration, because the Bush administration will be able to say, see, he's still got chemical weapons and he's using them aggressively and preemptively.

And I think Saddam knows that. He seems to be making it clear he's going to hold back and wait until we get to Baghdad before he uses them.

O'BRIEN: And that, in and of itself, is an ominous statement.

POLLACK: No question about it. I'm not suggesting this is going to be easy. It's just, I think the likelihood he's going to use them against us in Kuwait, less than when we get to Baghdad.

O'BRIEN: Ken Pollack, our analyst, author of "The Threatening Storm" and with the Brookings Institution, we appreciate you being with us, as always.

POLLACK: Thanks, Miles.



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