Skip to main content

Correspondent for 'The Atlantic Monthly,' Robert Kaplan

His story in the April edition of the magazine is "A Tale of Two Colonies." Kaplan traveled to Yemen and Eritrea to investigate how the war on terrorism is forcing the United States to be involved with each. Yemen is believed to have the largest al Qaeda presence outside of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Kaplan is best known for his book Balkan Ghosts, which former President Clinton turned to before the U.S. involvement in the Bosnian crisis. Kaplan's 1990 book Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has just been republished, updating the story.


Other segments from the episode on March 11, 2017

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 11, 2003: Interview with Robert D. Kaplan; Interview with Peter Galbraith; Commentary on the word 'protest.'


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Robert D. Kaplan discusses his travels to Yemen and
Eritrea and what role they might play in the war on terrorism

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Journalist Robert D. Kaplan has written an article about two countries that
he describes as case studies in the war on terrorism, countries the US is
trying to work with: Yemen and Eritrea. Kaplan's article, "A Tale of Two
Colonies," is in the April edition of The Atlantic Monthly. Kaplan is a
correspondent for the magazine. He wrote an article called "A Post-Saddam
Scenario," which was published in The Atlantic's November edition. Kaplan's
books include "Surrender or Starve: Travels In Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and
Somalia." A new edition will be published later this year.

Yemen has perhaps the largest al-Qaeda presence anywhere outside the
Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, and Osama bin Laden's family is originally
from Yemen. I asked Kaplan if there's any estimate of how many al-Qaeda
operatives are currently there.

Mr. ROBERT D. KAPLAN (The Atlantic Monthly): Nobody has any numbers. Let me
put it to you this way. When you travel as I did throughout the borderlands
of the northern part of Yemen that abut the Saudi Arabian border--and I've
even crossed in and out of Saudi Arabia from Yemen--this is an unmarked,
unpatrolled border. In all of these towns in the area, you find just huge
populations of young men with assault rifles, the safeties off, radical
preachers. The way to look at it is this is a perfect petri dish, a perfect
breeding ground for radicalism. And given the poverty of the country, the
fact that half the country is 15 years old or younger, given that the central
government has very little direct control in most of these border areas makes
it almost academic in terms of whether or not there's an al-Qaeda presence.

GROSS: Well, in traveling through Yemen, did you get a sense of what popular
opinion is about US intervention in Iraq and also about bin laden?

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, what I learned in Yemen was that popular opinion in the
Middle East, particularly in Arabia, exists on many different contradictory
levels. And it depends what level you're tapping into. For instance, people
will have the usual complaints about US foreign policy. On the other hand, a
Yemeni woman who has an American passport fetches a much higher dowry price,
so that she's more desirable as a mate. Yemenis are constantly trying to get
visas to study in the United States. Throughout Yemen--not just in Sanaa, the
capital, but in the smallest outlying villages, you will meet significant
numbers of Yemeni-Americans, many retirees, people who have done very well in
business in the United States and have retired back to the old country with
their American passports, following American sports, proud of being Americans,
kind of like the way Greek-Americans retire back to Greece, etc. Yet at the
same time, there's all this complaint about US foreign policy. So that public
opinion is very fluid in Yemen and very subject to events.

GROSS: Now Yemen has had two direct connections to terrorism. One, the
attack on the USS Cole was in a harbor in Yemen, and the attack on the French
tanker Limburg was off the Yemeni coast in 2002. You write, `These attacks
may have perplexed some Western observers. The bombings should have served to
bring the US and France closer together, but al-Qaeda knew what it was doing.'
What do you mean? What did al-Qaeda think it was doing?

Mr. KAPLAN: Yes. At the time of the bombings, there were some questioning
that al-Qaeda really didn't have a strategic sense, that it didn't really
understand Western foreign policy and the power disputes within NATO, within
the US and Europe, because after all, it should have been in al-Qaeda's
interest to split America and France apart, but these bombings were bringing
them together. But al-Qaeda knew exactly what it was doing, and let me
explain why.

Think of Yemen; it's a country of 20 million people in the heartland of
Arabia, very radicalized. It's a very culturally sympathetic, conveniently
chaotic base for al-Qaeda. If only al-Qaeda could sufficiently weaken the
Yemeni government so that there would be even more chaos than there is, and
then al-Qaeda could operate. Because Yemen, remember, is not peripheral to
the Middle East the way Afghanistan was. Yemen is Arab, unlike Afghanistan.
It's a much more friendly climate.

But here was the problem. Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen, who's
been in power since the late '70s, has built up a fairly strong institutional
base of security services, police, ministries, etc. But one of the ways that
Ali Abdullah Saleh maintains control is that he's able to bribe tribal sheiks.
He's able to pay them off with oil revenues and shipping revenues that come
through Yemen's main ports of Aden (pronounced ay-den)--Aden (pronounced
ah-den) and Mukalla. Now whenever you bomb an oil tanker, even if it's a
small, pinprick attack, suddenly, insurance rates shoot up; suddenly, ships
don't want to come in and collect the oil; suddenly, it's not just oil that's
harder to ship and which insurance rates go up, but the whole container
traffic in and out of the country the insurance rates jack up.

So through a few relatively small attacks separated by a year and a half,
al-Qaeda was able to triple or quadruple insurance rates and basically slow
down the money flowing into the Yemeni government coffers, with which the
president, Saleh, is able to bribe the sheiks and, thus, keep control of the
country. So if you were looking for, like, your best way to--you know, your
best, like, cost-effective economy of force asymmetrical way of attacking the
Yemeni government at the heart, you know, it would be to bomb oil tankers.

GROSS: Now what about President Saleh? Has he been tolerant of the al-Qaeda
operatives there or has he been cooperating with the United States war on
terrorism against al-Qaeda?

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, it's a bit complicated. Going back 11 years, remember that
Yemen was probably the most flagrant supporter of Saddam Hussein in the Gulf
War of '90-'91. And it was a financial disaster for Yemen afterwards in terms
of losing aid from Saudi Arabia and many other things. This time, there was a
lot of kind of speculation and reports that Yemen was looking the other way
when al-Qaeda launched its attack on the USS Cole. President Saleh has
various elements of his own family that were playing kind of footsie with some
of--you know, who were very close to radical sheiks, al-Qaeda elements.

But after September 11th, the direct pressure from the Bush White House was so
overwhelming that basically President Saleh has decided, for the time being,
to have an alliance with the United States. And his attitude towards the
United States is he treats us like another rebellious tribal sheik. We're
like another crazy faction in his country that he has to hold close to his
chest so he knows what we are doing. You know, hold your enemies close.

So we've provided him with help, and in return, you may remember, there was
the November Predator attack of November 2002. In the desert about a hundred
miles east of the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, there was an attack by an unmanned
Predator aircraft operated by the CIA that incinerated a vehicle that
contained several passengers, including Abu Ali El-Harthi, who was an al-Qaeda
operative in Yemen, one of the main operatives who was a specialist in
maritime terrorism. And that successful CIA attack against a top al-Qaeda
leader in Yemen could not have been done without the cooperation of the Yemeni
government at the highest levels. So in a sense, the Yemeni government has
now bought a one-way ticket with the United States. And in return, it's
getting over $20 million in aid to beef up its special forces, to allow it to
be able to project power into these tribal badlands, also to build a coast
guard, which it didn't have before, which it will need if it is to protect
container shipping and oil tanking in its coastal waters.

GROSS: OK. So they're getting over $20 million. That's the carrot. Is
there a stick, too? You said that the Bush administration really pressured
the president of Yemen. What was the pressure part like?

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, as I heard it, it was very blunt. The president spoke as
blunt to the president of Yemen as President Bush sometimes speaks publicly.
He said to him, `You're with us or you're against us. You're a friend or
you're an enemy.' And remember that by siding with Iraq over the United
States 11 years ago, Yemen suffered enormously financially, and it is through
finances, through money that President Saleh of Yemen is able to pay off these
tribal sheiks and bribe his continuation in power, so to speak. So the
military aid doesn't seem like a lot of money, but it can go very, very far in
a country like Yemen.

And what President Saleh has done by holding his enemies close, like these
tribal sheiks, like the United States with this temporary alliance of
convenience, is that he's drawn closer to his half-brother on his mother's
side, a man by the name of Ali Muchsen Saleh al-Achmar(ph). Now Ali Muchsen
is a very complicated man. He has had very close links to the most radical
elements in Yemen, but he's also a very capable, button-down military
organizer, a general whose armored unit protects the capital of Sanaa, someone
who is seen by the United States in the pre-September 11th period to be a kind
of bad guy. But he's now been co-opted by President Saleh into this
pro-American alliance of convenience.

And Ali Muchsen Saleh al-Achmar serves another purpose for President Ali
Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, and it is this. It's that in case this war in Iraq
goes badly for the United States, President Saleh will be able to swiftly and
credibly distance himself from us through the good offices of his
half-brother, who has such good links with the radicals in the country. And
this is...

GROSS: The radical Islamists.

Mr. KAPLAN: Yes. And this is where we get to the heart of the issue in
Yemen, where Yemen is like so many other countries in the Middle East in this
perhaps a week or two before war in Mesopotamia. It's that you have leaders
like President Saleh in Yemen, President Ali in Tunisia, King Mohammed VI in
Morocco, President Mubarak in Egypt and many others who are kind of looking at
how this turns out in Iraq. And if it turns out well, they're suddenly going
to be moving closer to their moderates. They're going to be opening up their
societies. They'll be holding elections, perhaps. Whereas if things go badly
for the United States, for the sake of their own political preservation, they
may be moving closer to the radicals and the extremists.

GROSS: My guest is journalist Robert Kaplan. We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Robert D. Kaplan is my guest. He's a correspondent for The Atlantic
Monthly. And in the April edition, he has a piece called "A Tale of Two
Colonies" based on his travels to Yemen and Eritrea and looking at the role
they're playing, or might play, in the war on terrorism.

What is the government that we're working with in Eritrea--what does this
government represent?

Mr. KAPLAN: It's hard to categorize it as good or bad. Let me give you the
positive ledger and then the negative side of the ledger. The positive side
of the ledger is here you have a country and a city--the capital of Eritrea is
Asmara, which is probably the safest capital city in sub-Saharan Africa, a
place you can walk around at night with thousands of dollars in your pocket,
nobody's going to rob you, you don't have to lock your doors. And it's not
because of coercion or secret police, because you don't see any around, where
there's a degree of social discipline and stability that you simply will not
find elsewhere in Africa, where all handicap people have nice new crutches,
where women run all of the shops and stores. You know, it seems like a model
society. But the reason it is so is because this is a society that fought a
30-year--a three-decade-long guerrilla struggle with Ethiopia, and the result
was that it inculcated a social discipline so strong that the government
almost does not need to crack down.

Now there's the negative side of the ledger: probably the worst press
repression anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa; elections canceled several times;
arrests of dissidents and even the arrests, without charges or a trial even,
of several employees of foreign embassies, including the United States. Now
here's the rub. Here's where it gets even trickier. The president of
Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, has offered the United States deep water port
facilities, air bases to bomb anyone we want anytime we want anywhere we want.
He's strategically placed at the mouth of the Red Sea, 50 miles from Arabia.
And given the problems we've been having in Turkey, in other parts of Europe,
if you're looking down the road five or 10 years, it's almost inevitable that
the Pentagon is going to want to have a deeper and deeper military
relationship with this government.

GROSS: What's the place of Eritrea in the war on terrorism now, and is it a
haven for operatives from al-Qaeda?

Mr. KAPLAN: It technically could be a haven because there are so many
hundreds of square miles of unpatrolled desert. But it probably isn't because
that desert is unlivable. It has no water resources. And the government in
Eritrea runs a very, very tight, efficient ship. In fact, security for
foreign diplomats, Americans, Israelis even, is easier in Eritrea than it is
almost anywhere else in the region. Diplomats, Israeli diplomats even, walk
around without bodyguards. I mean, this is a place that is really buttoned
down and safe.

GROSS: You write, `Our military involvement with Eritrea and Yemen will mean
political involvement in their domestic affairs. And throughout the ages,
that has been the essence of imperialism.' What are you saying?

Mr. KAPLAN: What I'm saying is like what the United States likes to do is
say, `We want a military relationship with you, and to do that you have to
have reasonably good human rights in most cases. But otherwise, we don't want
to get involved in your domestic politics.' We don't really care about
Eritrea's historic dispute with Ethiopia or Yemen's dispute over a few islands
in the Red Sea with Eritrea. But I've got news for you. If we're going to be
establishing military facilities in these countries, if we're even going to
use them for launchpads for attacks in future years, simply by being there,
we're going to alter the domestic politics of all those countries and we're
going to have to get involved.

And if you look at what actually happens in imperialist systems, it's that the
search for security leads to an involvement in all the neuroses of many
foreign countries. For instance, we can't just be setting up these bases in
Eritrea, as enticing as they seem, if we can't get our own people released
from detention, because though the people that were arrested from the American
Embassy are not American citizens, they're Eritrean nationals, the United
States has a rule: We protect our own, even the foreign nationals who work
for our embassies all over the world. So that it's impossible to kind of have
a military relationship without getting the government to loosen up on its
crackdown of dissidents and others. And then suddenly, you're inside the murk
and mire of domestic politics.

GROSS: Tell me if you see this a few years or even a few months down the
line, that we have, you know, military bases in countries like Yemen or
military cooperation from countries like Yemen, and a lot of the people of
that country hate America for whatever the reasons are on their agenda, and
then we have to deal with putting down dissent.

Mr. KAPLAN: Yeah.

GROSS: And then we're kind of cracking down on the people of another country,
or helping that country's government crack down on dissenters, putting us in a
position that's the opposite of helping humanitarian concerns and human

Mr. KAPLAN: You know, I lived for seven years in Greece in the 1980s when we
had four sprawling military bases there that were the bone of contention in
domestic politics. And one of the reasons--they were very unpopular, in other
words. And one of the reasons they were unpopular is that they were very
noticeable. One of them was in the heart of the Athenian suburbs. One of the
things we're learning is something that the Soviets learned in Eastern Europe
throughout the Cold War when they had bases in Hungary, but nobody in Budapest
ever saw Soviet soldiers, was that you have bases in outlying areas, outlying
islands, places where they're simply not physically noticeable, where people
don't necessarily see American troops.

GROSS: Well, I'm just wondering, listening to you talk, do we want to be
learning lessons from the Soviets on how to have bases in countries that don't
really want you there?

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, we don't want to be learning moral lessons from them, but
in terms of, you know, here and there some kind of tactical element--I mean,
you know, establishing bases is pretty much standard around the world. Let me
say that having bases in Eritrea would not be unpopular. In that sense, the
Eritrean government is representing a popular wish. America is very, very
popular in that country. So there wouldn't be the kind of contradictions that
you're bringing up in Eritrea. Yemen, of course, would be a completely other
story, and that's why I don't really see that we're going to have bases in

What we're going to have is hopefully a pro-American government that moves
further and further towards, you know, human rights, democracy, along--you
know, building up the society and will have a very subtle, low-key military
cooperation with us. That's the hope. In other words, keep President Saleh
in power so that he can gradually extend the rule of law to the tribal
badlands so as to bring humanitarian and social aid to these outlying regions
to get at the root of the problems in the first place.

GROSS: Robert Kaplan's article on Yemen and Eritrea is published in the April
edition of The Atlantic Monthly. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, journalist Robert Kaplan on a scenario for a post-Saddam
Iraq. Also, an update on the Kurds in northern Iraq with Peter Galbraith, and
linguist Geoff Nunberg looks at the evolution of the word `protest' as in
`anti-war protest' and `pro-war protest.'

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Robert D. Kaplan, a
correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly. His article about Yemen, Eritrea and
the war on terrorism is published in the April edition.

In an earlier edition of The Atlantic Monthly, you have an article on a
post-Saddam scenario for Iraq. Can you just kind of give us a summary of your
hopes for Iraq after Saddam Hussein?

Mr. KAPLAN: Yes. My hopes are this--is that immediately after, we will have
a kind of liberal dictatorship or a more liberal dictatorship along the lines
of Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan or Hosni Mubarak in Egypt that will prepare
the country for democracy further on, a kind of normal military dictator after
a Stalinist dictator, a kind of transitional government for a while, because,
to me, that is the only practical transitional alternative. You're not going
to go cold turkey from a Stalinist system to a Western-style parliamentary
democracy in a matter of a few weeks or even a few months. That was tried in
Russia and it led to financial collapse. What tends to succeed is gradual

And remember, not all dictators are alike. There's gradations; there are
distinctions. Saddam Hussein is in a class by himself, so that any new
dictator along the lines of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, for
example, President Mubarak in Egypt, almost any other ruler in the Arab world
would signal a vast improvement in human rights in Iraq.

GROSS: So we topple a tyrant and then support a dictator in his place.

Mr. KAPLAN: Yeah. We topple a Stalinist tyrant and replace him with a
liberal-minded, liberalizing dictator as a temporary solution to prepare the
groundwork for democracy, which is not simply holding elections, but building
institutions, because it is institutions that are the real centerpiece of
democracy. Anyone can hold an election, but getting police, law courts,
bureaucracies to function and be driven by something other than fear takes
quite a while.

GROSS: Now a point that a lot of people have raised is that what has held
together the different religious and ethnic groups of Iraq is the fact that
it's been ruled by a tyrant, Saddam Hussein, with an iron hand. And the
comparison has been made to what might happen after Saddam Hussein is toppled
to what happened in Yugoslavia after the end of communism, which was that
there was civil war, there was, you know, terrible fighting and terrible
chaos; it was really quite ugly. Do you think America will be in the position
of having to back somebody with a really strong arm in order to prevent that
kind of chaos? And again, is that the position we'd want to be in?

Mr. KAPLAN: Both Yugoslavia and Iraq came into being after the collapse of
the Ottoman empire, and both suffer many of the same pathologies. It wasn't
just Saddam who was a ruthless tyrant. All the Iraqi dictators before him
were significantly more repressive than dictators in other parts of the Arab
world, which means there's something about Iraq and its borders that goes
beyond Saddam that is partly responsible for these high levels of repression.
And the something is this: Not only do you have different ethnic groups,
Kurds smashed together with Sunni Arabs smashed together with Shiite Arabs,
but it's that you also have an urban civilization among all these groups,
fairly high levels of education starting in the 1930s and 1940s, and that has
led for each of these groups to have a very well-articulated sense of national
identity, which means in order to rule all three it's required an iron fist;
and, therefore, because we are going to have to prevent the unleashing of
chaos in the immediate aftermath of any successful military operation, we are
going to have no choice but to go for a new leader, at least for a temporary
period, who will be able to control things, who will be able to administer

GROSS: In your piece on what a post-Saddam scenario might be like for Iraq,
you write: `The most logical place for US to relocate Middle Eastern bases in
the 21st century is Iraq.' What kind of military presence do you envision the
United States having in a post-Saddam Iraq?

Mr. KAPLAN: All right. Well, look at it this way: Whatever you may think of
the regime in Saudi Arabia and of our relationship with Saudi Arabia, the fact
is that significant numbers of American troops on Saudi soil--that is the soil
of the Holy Land, where the Muslim holy places are--is a provocation. That
hurts our bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia. It's destabilizing for the
region. So we are going to have to relocate those troops whatever happens in
the future. And Iraq is next door. It's in the heartland of the Middle East.

In addition to having a very repressive tradition, it also has a very secular
tradition that is very deep and goes back many decades. And winning a war in
Iraq--that is to say, you know, for the sake of argument, if this goes
well--by definition that's going to mean that we're going to be able to a
certain extent over time to help remake society there, and we will at the very
minimum have basing rights. We already do in the northern third of Iraq.
Remember, the no-fly zones already are the equivalent of having basing rights
in much of this country.

GROSS: Do you think that that scenario fulfills one of the fears of a lot of
people in that part of the world, which is that one of the reasons for this
war so we could have more of a military presence there---it's about us; it's
about our needs?

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, all nations, including ours, have always been driven, as I
said earlier, by security, and that security, that mania for security leads
for a deep involvement in the domestic affairs of others.

But one thing that I've noticed, whether it's Yemen, whether it's Tunisia,
wherever I go in the Middle East, is that when America is seen to be strong,
the leaders in all these countries are under more pressure to open up their
societies so as to satisfy the US Congress, the US president, the various
pressure groups in Washington, etc. There's no better recipe for extremism,
repression, a bad situation for human rights than a weak American military
position in the region.

GROSS: You're making the case that if we are able to depose Saddam Hussein,
what we need to do is to support a liberal dictatorship there as a
transitional step to democracy.

Mr. KAPLAN: Yes.

GROSS: Do you think the Bush administration shares that opinion? Is that
what they're trying to do, too?

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, it might, but you can't put it in those terms. For
instance, I can put it in those terms because I'm not a politician. I'm a
commentator. But an American politician can never say, `I'm going to war to
bring in a liberal dictator.' He would say, `I'm going to war to bring more
freedom, to liberalize a society.' And the details of that are best left

GROSS: And you think that's what the Bush administration is doing, that
they're heading for the liberal dictatorship, but they can't quite put it that

Mr. KAPLAN: My suspicion is that what the Bush administration wants is the
following--and this is purely my suspicion--is it wants fast and quick a
governing authority in Iraq that will get Iraq off the front pages of the
newspapers by this summer, say, and move it back to a Page 3 story so that
commentators on the Op-Ed pages can argue then about how fast will it be
before there are democratic elections. But swing voters and important states
are basically going to consider the issue a success.

GROSS: You recently went to Colombia, and that will be the subject of your
next piece for The Atlantic. Are there any connections between Colombia and
the war on terrorism?

Mr. KAPLAN: Well, you know, Colombia's a bit like the Pacific theater in
World War II--it's jungly, it's crime-ridden, it's violent. There's a whole
other war going on there, and yet it's relegated by larger events elsewhere.

Colombia is now the third-largest recipient of American aid after Israel and
Egypt. It has three really brutal terrorist organizations there,
narcoterrorist organizations, 'cause you've had extreme right-wing
paramilitaries and two left-wing groups that have gone big-time into the
cocaine business. And it's only a matter of time; in fact, there's already
evidence emerging of growing strategic links between Colombian terrorists and
al-Qaeda. After all, Colombian guerrilla groups already have documented links
with the IRA, with the Ba'ath separatists in Spain, so al-Qaeda is really not
that much of a jump.

GROSS: What's the connection?

Mr. KAPLAN: The connection is pure self-interest. The Colombian terrorists
have land to give; they control large parts of the country. Al-Qaeda is
looking for places anywhere outside of government control where it can set up
some kind of base. Also, the Colombian terrorists have a lot of money. They
bring in hundreds of millions of dollars yearly in cocaine-related profits,
but they don't have the kind of tactical expertise--the weapons training,
etc.--that a group like al-Qaeda has and that it can offer.

GROSS: Well, Robert Kaplan, I want to thank you very much for talking with

Mr. KAPLAN: It's been my pleasure, Terry.

GROSS: Robert Kaplan is a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly. His latest
piece on Yemen, Eritrea and the war on terrorism is in the April edition.

Coming up, we call back Peter Galbraith to talk about the Kurds of northern
Iraq and Turkey. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Professor Peter Galbraith discusses the effect of a
war on Kurdish people of northern Iraq and Turkey

On Sunday, the leader of Turkey's governing party was elected to parliament.
He's poised to become the next prime minister. He has suggested that he may
call for another vote on a plan that was voted down earlier this month,
America's plan to use Turkey as a staging ground for US troops who would enter
northern Iraq from Turkey. Northern Iraq is where the Kurds have established
an independent enclave. Turkey has about 15 million Kurds living within its
borders. Turkish leaders are concerned that an independent Kurdish state in
northern Iraq might inspire Kurds within Turkey to seek their independence.
The Kurds of northern Iraq are worried that their independence could be
undermined by the Turks.

We've invited back Peter Galbraith, who has worked with the Kurds documenting
Saddam Hussein's campaign against them. He's now a professor of national
security studies at the National War College in Washington, DC. He's also the
former US ambassador to Croatia.

When we spoke in early February, you described yourself as a liberal
interventionist and you said you believed that war was necessary for
humanitarian reasons. You were especially concerned about the Kurds, against
whom Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons in the late '80s. Now the US is
still trying to make a deal with Turkey to let us use Turkey as a base for
American troops. Turkey voted it down, but there's still the possibility of
reversing that decision. What kind of trouble might it spell for the Kurds if
we did use Turkey as a staging ground for troops to enter northern Iraq?

Professor PETER GALBRAITH (National War College; Former Ambassador to
Croatia): Obviously, it depends on the deal that is struck with Turkey
relating to northern Iraq. The negotiations with Turkey have basically had
two parts. First, there's been a financial component in which Turkey has been
promised $6 billion in grants and another $20 billion in loans. And there has
been a political component, which is much less clearly defined, in which
Turkey would intervene in northern Iraq ostensibly for humanitarian purposes.
But once there, it would be in a position potentially to intimidate the
Kurdish regional government this is operating in the area.

The Bush administration had in February basically capitulated to Turkish
demands with regard to the Kurds. In other words, they'd assumed that the
Kurds would be kind of the patsies of the situation, that they would go along
with whatever the Americans asked of them. And I think they were very
surprised when the Kurds said clearly that they did not accept Turkish
intervention, and when Barzoni, whose territory is along the Turkish border,
said that, `If Turkey comes in, our forces will fight.' That being the case,
I think the administration has backed off quite a bit. It has taken Kurdish
concerns into account. And I think, in fact, many people were quite relieved
when the Turkish parliament voted down permitting US troops to launch an
attack from Turkey into Iraq.

GROSS: So what might the Turks do if we use Turkey as a staging area for
troops to enter northern Iraq?

Prof. GALBRAITH: Well, Turkey does not want to be part of any force that is
attacking Iraq, so it doesn't want to be under American command. But it wants
to be able to come in some distance into northern Iraq ostensibly to deal with
a flow of refugees. It says that it wants to prevent what happened in 1991
when nearly half a million Kurds came to the border of Turkey. But that isn't
going to happen this time, because the territory in the north is not under
Saddam Hussein's control; it is under Kurdish control, and Iraq is not going
to be in an attacking mode, so there's nothing that will displace the Kurds
from the territory where they now are. So Turkey actually has another motive.

I think Turkey believes it can block the future Iraq from becoming a federal
state in which the Kurds would have their own region, that it can potentially
intimidate the Kurdistan regional government that is based in the north.

GROSS: So what are the odds, then, that Turkey would enter northern Iraq and
try to prevent the Kurds from continuing to have a Kurdish zone?

Prof. GALBRAITH: Well, it is possible Turkey will come in even if there is no
agreement with the United States with regard to American troops staging from
Turkey, but I think that is less likely. I think the administration has said
clearly to Turkey that, `If you're not participating in the war effort, then
you cannot expect to send your troops into northern Iraq.'

And even now I think the administration is very skeptical about permitting
Turkey to enter northern Iraq even if Turkey should change its mind and permit
American troops to come into Turkey for the purpose of an attack on Iraq. I
think the administration understands that it's going to be very risky to be in
a situation which Turkish troops and Kurdish forces might possibly be fighting
each other. That's not going to be consistent with the message that one of
the reasons the US is doing this is, in fact, to liberate the Iraqi people.

GROSS: Well, why did it take some time before the Bush administration reached
that conclusion?

Prof. GALBRAITH: The Bush administration's been talking to the Kurdish
leaders, and the Kurdish leaders have been very supportive of the war effort.
On the one hand, they rather like the situation in which they now live, in
which they have de facto independence, protected by the United States and
Britain. But they also understand that it's a very precarious situation.
They live just across the cease-fire line from Saddam Hussein, whom they
associate with the destruction of Kurdish villages, the use of chemical
weapons. And so they realize their long-term security is going to be best
served by an effort to remove Saddam Hussein and to create a different kind of
Iraq. So they have been cooperative.

I think the Bush administration assumed that that cooperation would extend to
a deal, which the Bush administration was believed as necessary to get Turkey
to participate, a deal which allowed Turkey into northern Iraq. I think the
administration really didn't understand the depth of Kurdish opposition to
Turkish involvement in their own territory.

GROSS: If Turkey did let the United States use its country as a staging area
for American troops, would you still support this war?

Prof. GALBRAITH: Well, I would have grave reservations if the price of
Turkish participation was the crushing of Kurdish freedom and of the Kurdish
experiment in self-government. It seems to me that the primary justification
today for military action is to liberate the Iraqi people from a regime that
has committed genocide, that is absolutely one of the most abhorrent since the
Second World War. And if the price of getting Turkey to participate is
crushing the freedom of a part of the Iraqi people, if the price is
eliminating the only democratic experiment in the entire history of Iraq,
which is what the Kurds have in the territory they administer, then, frankly,
I think that price is too high.

Because the other case that's been made for the war as of today really isn't
that compelling; that is, the danger from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
I think that danger was more compelling six months ago, but today, with the
inspections regime that exists, we can be reasonably confident that Iraq
cannot develop nuclear weapons, and that's the weapon of mass destruction that
we all have to fear above all others. But to develop them requires large
industrial facilities that Iraq cannot hide.

And Iraq cannot develop easily more chemical weapons under this system. Now
it obviously still has chemical weapons, it still has biological weapons, but
it really can't develop more of them under this kind of inspection system. So
in terms of a WMD threat, Iraq is not the number-one concern. It obviously
pales as comparison, for example, with North Korea.

GROSS: Well, Peter Galbraith, thank you very much for talking with us.

Prof. GALBRAITH: Well, Terry, very good to talk to you again.

GROSS: Peter Galbraith is a professor of national security studies at the
National War College in Washington, DC.

Coming up, linguist Geoff Nunberg traces the evolution of the word `protest,'
as in anti-war protests and pro-war protests. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Commentary: Evolution of the word `protest'

`Anti-war protest' is a familiar phrase to Americans, but lately a new phrase,
`pro-war protests,' has been used to describe demonstrations supporting the
Bush administration's policy toward Iraq. FRESH AIR's linguist, Geoff
Nunberg, has these thoughts on the evolution of the word `protest.'


Sometimes a social change can announce itself in the dropping of a
preposition. It used to be that when you used the verb `protest' to mean
object to you had to add `against.' `She protested against her mistreatment.'
Then in the early years of the 20th century, Americans began to drop the
preposition and say things like, `He protested the government's policy.' As
it happens, it was around the time that people started using `protest' with a
direct object that they also started to think of protest as a kind of direct
political action, aimed at mobilizing public opinion against a particular
policy. That's when you begin to see phrases like `protest demonstration,'
`protest strike' and `protest movement.'

Or take `protest march.' I had always assumed that the phrase originated with
the `ban the bomb' movement of the 1950s. But actually, it was first used in
1913 to describe the march that Gandhi organized to protest the restrictions
that had been imposed on the Indian population of South Africa, the first
massive civil disobedience campaign. Over the following decades, protest
would be intimately linked with those new techniques of political resistance.
By the 1930s, people were using phrases like `the literature of protest' and
`social protest' to suggest a whole range of progressive agitation.

But it wasn't until the '60s that the notion of protest entered the mainstream
of the American vocabulary. That was the moment when songs with political
messages began to make their way out of the coffeehouses and hootenannies and
onto the airwaves. For some people, protest music evokes the folk-inspired
topical songs of Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs, Country Joe McDonald and
the early Dylan. But by the mid-'60s, people were using the phrase for songs
like "Blowin' In The Wind" and Barry McGuire's 1965 "Eve Of Destruction,"
which was the first protest song to become a number-one hit. "Eve of
Destruction's" lyrics were mostly a generic plea for peace and understanding,
a pretty far cry from Phil Ochs' "The War Is Over" or The Fugs' "Kill For
Peace." Even so, a lot of AM stations refused to play the song, and
conservatives complained to the FCC that the song violated the equal time
provision, back before they learned they could live nicely without it.

By then, people had begun to use the noun `protest' as a shorthand for
clamorous rally. That gave rise to the word `protester' (pronounced
PRO-tes-ter), in place of the older form `protester' (pronounced pro-TES-ter),
which was derived from the verb. The shift in stress corresponded to a
difference in emphasis. `Protester' (pronounced pro-TES-ter) suggests an
individual with a specific beef in mind; whereas when you hear `protester'
(pronounced PRO-tes-ter), you think of a bunch of angry people kicking up a

By the time the Vietnam War ended, the notion of protest was losing its
connection with the old tradition of social protest. There's a revealing use
of the word in the 1982 film "First Blood," the first and by far the best of
the Rambo movies. It comes when Rambo's describing his return from Vietnam.
`And I came back to the world and I see all those maggots at the airport
protesting me, spitting, calling me "baby killer." Who are they to protest
me?' Granted, Rambo was supposed to be a little unhinged, but by then a lot
of people wouldn't have seen anything odd in the notion of a protest aimed at
individual soldiers. It was becoming just another name for a demonstration.

That's apparently all the word means to some people now, as protests are back
in the streets. The other day I saw the influential conservative blogger
Glenn Reynolds referring to the `growing pro-war protest movement.' That took
me aback. But when I hunted around, I found a number of other conservatives
using the word that way. The Web site of the Young Americans for Freedom
boasts about the `pro-war protest' that the group organized at the University
of Michigan. Even the press is starting to pick this up. An article in The
Seattle Times last week talked about the `protesters at a pro-Bush
demonstration who were waving signs saying, "Support our troops."'

There's a clueless evenhandedness in those uses of protest. There's nothing
odd in talking about a conservative campus group holding a protest over the
university president's support of affirmative action. That may not conjure up
the old notion of Protest with a capital P, but it's clearly a form of
resistance to the established order.

But it sounds a little weird to talk about a protest in support of a war
that's about to be initiated by the administration in power. Maybe it's just
semantic sloppiness, as if protest nowadays was just a question of getting
together to yell slogans. Why should the other side have all the fun? Or
maybe it's a strategic blurring of historical memory. It's hard to keep this
stuff straight in an age when the oldie stations are apt to play Barry
McGuire's "Eve of Destruction" back to back with Barry Sadler's "Ballad Of
The Green Berets," which was a number-one hit a few months later.

But you'd hope that protest would retain some of the sense of resistance that
it acquired at the beginning of the last century. Up to now, after all,
protest has been the only political action that power can't take.

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is currently a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center.
He's the author of the book "The Way We Talk Now."

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Chef David Chang On Depression, Being A Dad And The Burden Of 'Authenticity'

David Chang has won James Beard awards as a chef and restaurateur. His first and best known restaurant Momofuku started as very modest noodle bar in Manhattan’s east village. The food was influenced by the food he grew up with--food that used to embarrass him when he was growing up. His parents are from North Korea. He now has restaurant in NY, LA, Vegas, Toronto and Australia. He’s had bipolar disorder for many years and credits cooking and his restaurants with saving his life. He has a new memoir.


Vaccine Expert: Once A COVID Vaccine Is Available, 'Don't Overthink It. Don't Wait'

Dr. Peter Hotez is co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital, and says that a vaccine release could begin for selected populations by the middle of December — and that a broader vaccination effort could soon follow.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.


Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue