On March 24, somebody finally asked the State Department whether it was true that Colin Powell last week sold out the Kurds by quietly telling Turkey it could send troops into Iraqi Kurdistan. The accusation, made in Foggy Bottom's hometown paper first by unnamed "senior Turkish officials" and subsequently by Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, went unanswered for two days. (Three if you count a broad hint on March 21 by James Helicke of the Associated Press and some irresponsible speculation that same day by Chatterbox.) Tim Russert of NBC News asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about it on Meet the Press, but Rummy was the wrong person to ask (and didn't really answer). Brit Hume of Fox News neglected to ask Powell about it during a lengthy interview, lending credence to Chatterbox's theory that conservatives have come to view the Kurds and their demands as a petty annoyance (William Safire being a notable exception).
The Turks' accusation was finally posed to State Department spokesman Richard Boucher at his March 24 press briefing:
Q:Did you see the interview in the Post yesterday?
Q: You know what my question is? Erdogan said it was—
Boucher: I saw it, didn't read it.
Q: Erdogan said it was his understanding, based on conversations with the Secretary, that the U.S. had no objection to some Turkish troops entering.
Boucher:We have never agreed to any Turkish presence in the north. It was not fully coordinated with the coalition.
From this exchange, Chatterbox guesses that Powell told the Turks some sort of Turkish presence might be all right if the troops were under U.S. command, but that he'd rather they stay out altogether. President Bush has been firmer in stating that "we're making it very clear to the Turks that we expect them not to come into Northern Iraq." But even Bush's statement allowed for a possible Turkish invasion later on ("we're working with the Kurds to make sure there's not an incident that would cause there to be an excuse [for the Turks] to go into Northern Iraq"). And Bush has yet to utter in this context his favorite I-ain't-foolin' word, "consequences." Bush's new proposed war budget, out of hiding now that his massive tax cut has cleared the House and Senate, includes a $1 billion grant to Turkey and allows for an additional $8.5 billion in loans and loan guarantees. That'll show 'em!
Bush could use a lesson in toughness from weak-kneed "Old Europe." The Germans told Turkey that Turkish entry into northern Iraq "would lead to the withdrawal of the German soldiers from NATO AWACS aircraft." And plucky little Belgium said, "It is unthinkable Turkey should join [the European Union] if it goes into Kurdistan," though the Turkish daily Zaman reports that the Belgians backed off somewhat today.