Thomas L. Friedman – Tolerable or Awful: The Roads Left in Iraq

Tom’s latest column contains the following parts about the Kurds:

The “tolerable” outcome that might be self-sustaining and stable would require reshaping Iraq as a loose federation of predominantly Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni zones. To make even that work, though, would probably require cutting a new deal with Iran and its Iraqi Shiite clients, and Syria and its Sunni Baathist allies, and the Kurds.

…we’d need to give a security umbrella to the Kurds, so that Syria, Turkey or Iran did not invade them if we left.

My best guess is that Iraq will split, with the Kurds going their own way, leaving the Shiites and Sunnis to wage their own war for the remainder of Iraq. The Kurds are a separate people, neither Persian (Iran) or Arab (the rest of the Mideast), with a rich history and their own language. They live in “the lands of the Kurds” or Kurdistan, an area that spans parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

This suggests we should start thinking more strategically how to deal with this eventuality. And where I’m right or wrong, we should start building better relationships with Iran, Syria, and Turkey.

Especially Turkey. It is the most West-leaning; indeed, it is even trying to join the European Union.

If nothing else, we should start educating ourselves about Turkey.

And thinking of Turkey got me to thinking about Harry Truman.

I recall reading in the first days of the Bush administration a comment by one of the NY Times’s columnists that George W. Bush was “the least intellectually-curious public figure I have ever met.” That gave me a sense of foreboding that the events of the past few years have sadly shown was well-advised.

The best biography of President Harry Truman is Truman, by the noted historian David McCullough. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993.

The book is over 1100 pages and I read them all. But a couple of stories stand out.

McCullough tells of a State Department official who was at a meeting during which President Truman displayed a deep knowledge of Turkey.

On return to his office, the official sent over to the Library of Congress for some books about Turkey. On opening one of the he found it had last been checked out in 1938 by a Congressman named Harry Truman.

Truman’s beloved wife Bess was never a fan of Washington, so Truman was alone when in Washington and spent much of his time reading. As a member of Congress Truman had full access to the Library of Congress and made good use of it.

Another story was about a reporter who told of going to the funeral of a man who had been a minor political figure in Independence, Missouri, Truman’s home town. This was years after President Truman had retired and returned to Independence. There were only a few people present on a cold day in February. Just before the service started, a limousine drove up and out stepped President Truman. As he was departing, the reporter asked Mr. President why had bothered to attend the funeral of a man who had died in obscurity. To which Truman replied, “I never forget a friend.”

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