While I certainly have been sympathetic to the Kurdish plight over the years, I have also consistently condemned the Kurdistan Workers Party (better known by their Kurdish acronym, the PKK) for their terrorist activity. I may not be a fan of the current Turkish government, which is increasingly dictatorial, anti-free speech, quite corrupt, and abuses religion for political purposes, but terrorism is never justified.
The United States has consistently helped Turkey in its fight against terrorism. Frank Ricciardone, U.S. ambassador to Turkey, estimates that U.S. assistance to Turkey’s anti-terror fight costs American tax payers about $1 million per day, well over a quarter billion dollars each year.
That’s a good investment in the fight against terrorism, but there is no reason that the United States should assist Turkey if the Turkish government itself isn’t serious about countering terrorism. Terrorism isn’t just the PKK and it’s not just anti-Turkish. The lack of international consensus on the definition of terrorism undercuts the international fight against the phenomenon: Too many countries, Turkey at their forefront, want to make exceptions for terrorism. If the terrorism is directed against Israel—and, as many Turks will say, America as well—then it is somehow justified. That’s why prominent Erdogan advisers like Cuneyd Zapsu donated money to and assisted an Al Qaeda financier.
Perhaps it’s time for the Congress and the State Department to take the war on terrorism to a new level. It’s time to require any allies who wish American anti-terror support to publicly accept a common definition of terrorism. I have always defined it as “the deliberate targeting of civilians for political gain.” If Turkey wants the U.S. to contribute to the fight against the PKK, then the Turkish government should clearly define not only al-Qaeda, but also Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist entities. If Turkey is not willing to do so, then perhaps it’s time to let the Turks handle their problems on their own. Likewise, if Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or any other country want anti-terror support, let’s embrace that. But, for the sake of winning the war against terrorism, it’s time the United States also resumes its leadership role and rallies them around a definition of terrorism, the lack of which too often legitimizes terrorists and hampers democracy’s victory.