How long will Turkey’s Iraq incursion last? Despite prompting from a nervous White House, the Turks have refused to present any timetable for withdrawal.

Why not? In a different context, George Bush explained: “It doesn’t make any sense to have a timetable. You know, if you give a timetable, you are conceding too much to the enemy.”

Our own Man of Steel made the same point, over and over again: “We are opposed to setting timetables for withdrawal.”

The invasion on northern Iraq risks destroying the sole stable region in the country. Within Turkey, it has fostered a chauvinist fervour exacerbating the persecution of the long-suffering Kurds. It will kill lots of people; it will, most likely, bolster the PKK’s popularity.

Yet, because of the War on Terror, the Turks have a ready-made rhetoric to justify their misbegotten adventure. For example, the hapless Iraqi cabinet has denounced the affront to its sovereignty. But, after 9/11 the US repeatedly declared a “right” to preemptive war that trumped any national boundaries.

Even Australia got in on that particular act. Here’s Alexander Downer explaining why he could attack any Asian country he chose. “Imagine a situation – it’s not likely to be Indonesia or a country which has a strong counter-terrorism capability, but a failed state in the South Pacific, as the Solomons once was and is not now, and a situation where a terrorist was about to attack and the country involved either didn’t want to or in their case, couldn’t do anything to stop it, we would have to go and do it ourselves.”

If it’s good enough for a goose such as Downer, it’s good enough for a gander – or Turkey, if you prefer.

In his attempt to hose down the Turkish incursion, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates explained: “Military action alone will not end this terrorist threat. Simultaneous efforts should be made with nonmilitary initiatives. Economic programs and political outreach. That is the only way to isolate terrorists from the population and provide a long term solution to the problem.”

All of which would, of course, sound far more reasonable if the US had launched its own “economic programs and political outreach” after 9/11.

“The Turks need to move, move quickly, achieve their objective and get out,” explains President Bush.

The same newspapers that carry his remarks on Turkey also report on the minor furore generated by John McCain with his suggestion that the US might be in Iraq for the next hundred years. And so on and so forth.

When the Coalition of the Willing invaded Iraq, it legitimised conduct that previous generations had regarded as immoral – even criminal. Welcome to the consequences.

Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland.