MOST PEOPLE would agree that it's bad ethics for government officials to invest in companies that they regulate. But what about a US special envoy to a Middle East trouble spot who happens to be a director of an arms company selling weapons to one of the parties in the conflict?Wow. That's pretty cool. Great work, Mizgin.
That's the case of retired Air Force General Joseph Ralston, who was appointed by the Bush administration in August to help US ally Turkey counter the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK , the Kurdish rebels who are seeking autonomy from Turkey and have bases in northern Iraq. Ralston, a former NATO supreme allied commander, has been negotiating with Turkish generals and Iraqi leaders since his appointment to develop measures to eliminate the bases.
The problem is that General Ralston is on the board of Lockheed Martin, the world's largest arms maker, which just last month finalized a $2.9 billion sale for advanced F-16 fighters that may well be used in the Kurdish region (the State Department acknowledges that F-16 s were involved in human rights abuses in Turkey in the 1990s). This gives the ex-general the appearance of holding a financial interest in his shuttle diplomacy.
The administration hopes the Ralston appointment will boost US-Turkish ties, which soured on the eve of the Iraq war after Turkey refused to allow American troops to deploy from Turkish soil. But the issue of PKK guerrillas, who have been battling the US-equipped Turkish army for 22 years, is complicated, and efforts to impose a military solution without causing more regional instability may backfire.
The Kurdish uprising in the 1990s in Turkey accounted for approximately 37,000 deaths, most of them ethnic Kurds. Whatever happens next will be closely watched by the restive population of 25 million stateless Kurds who spill across the borders of Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Syria.
Iraqi Kurdish leaders fear local Kurds would join Turkish Kurds to fight the Turkish army -- the largest NATO power (after the United States) -- and the result would be a Kurdish bloodbath. Privately, Iraqi Kurdish leaders complain that the issue of PKK bases is only a pretext. They claim that Ankara's real target is Kirkuk, the multiethnic, oil-rich city that Iraqi Kurds vow to incorporate into their semi-autonomous zone by 2007.
Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, who is a Kurd, recently played a key role in behind-the-scenes negotiations to disarm the guerrillas. The result was a cease-fire announcement on Oct. 1 by the rebels, who also declared they might hand over weapons to US forces in Iraq in exchange for Turkish concessions that include human rights reforms and amnesty for rebels. In a speech in Istanbul last month Ralston opposed amnesty and dismissed the cease-fire, declaring he would never "negotiate with terrorists."
General Ralston is on the board of the American Turkish Council, the powerful Capitol Hill lobby, and he is vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a corporation founded by former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, with close ties to the Turkish military. Unfortunately, Ralston carries too much baggage to be special envoy, and he should step down before he alienates the Kurds of Iraq, the best -- and perhaps only -- friend the US government has in the country.
With the looming threat of civil or even wider war in the region, the United States needs a skilled, disinterested negotiator to resolve the PKK issue, while finding a peaceful solution to legitimate Kurdish grievances.
Our new man in Ankara will be seen as an arms merchant in diplomat's clothing. He should be replaced.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Boston Globe: Ralston should be replaced.
* Boston Globe editorial by Kevin McKiernan on Ralston:
Posted by lukery at 11/02/2006 12:23:00 PM