THE BUSH administration's approach to the Gulf crisis has created vulnerabilities for its allies in the Middle East. Consider, for example, Turkey's present situation.
When the crisis in the Gulf began, many U.S. allies adjusted their policies according to the line they were hearing from Washington, which at that time was tough and determinedly bellicose. Turkey -- a country heavily reliant on its economic relations with Iraq, though anxious to solidify its relations with the rest of Europe and the United States -- was no exception. The Turkish president, Turgut Ozal, led the way in adopting policies in line with the tough talk coming from Washington, at great cost to his country.
Turkey was not only a pioneer in adopting the United Nations resolutions enforcing the embargo, but it also deployed forces on its common border with Iraq. Furthermore, it indicated to Washington that Turkey would be willing to allow U.S. forces to use NATO bases in that country. Ozal, not content with these steps, also lobbied Arab leaders around the Gulf by telephone, urging them not to give in to Saddam Hussein, as Judith Miller and Laurie Mylroie confirm in their new book "Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf."
The result of these actions -- loudly applauded by Washington -- was that Turkey created a hostile neighbor for itself in a volatile region, one it could be stuck with long after the Gulf crisis fades from memory in the West.
It did not take long for President Ozal to panic at the zigzagging signals from Washington, and he has since been very careful in his statements concerning Iraq. He has adopted a balanced approach to the crisis, calling for a diplomatic solution. He may have second thoughts if the United States approaches him with requests of support for military contingencies in the future. It is premature for final judgment, but last week Ozal was not only stuck in the volatile Middle East with a well-armed Saddam Hussein, but he was also under tremendous attack within his own country. The opposition parties, as well as Turkey's foreign-policy bureaucracy, were both accusing Ozal of having been "tricked by Washington" into supporting a policy not yet clearly formulated, even in the mind of its author, George Bush; of being more committed to a bellicose policy than the author of that policy.
Obviously, Washington will not risk its own national-security priorities to save Ozal's political career. The Bush administration may well claim that it never promised war to anyone. And it may be right. But the U.S. government should at least have made this clear to its allies in the region, to prevent future vulnerabilities in both domestic and foreign policy. When the crisis is over, U.S. forces will be free to leave the region, but these allies will remain behind.
In addition to a widespread perception of Ozal as having blindly followed Bush's lead, Turkish public opinion is increasingly aware that, despite all promises of aid for "front-line nations," the only result of Turkey's cooperation has been ever-spiraling inflation. The only front-line nation to have benefited so far is Egypt, which, in traditional Middle Eastern fashion, bargained up front and made its support of the U.S. initiatives contingent upon the forgiveness of $7 billion in debt. In contrast, Ozal asked for nothing at the outset and today, three months into the crisis, it appears that nothing substantial is in fact what Turkey will receive.
Now the U.S. administration is once again sending tough messages to Saddam Hussein. How can Iraq be convinced that these threats are credible at a time when even the U.S. allies have doubts?
There is an old saying in Turkish, "With a good friend, one can even travel to Baghdad," which means that, in the company of a reliable friend, one can travel long distances. Even President Ozal, a staunch friend of President Bush, now knows the full implications of this saying.
Ufuk Guldemir, Washington correspondent for the Turkish national daily Cumhuriyet, is the author of two books on U.S.-Turkish relations.