The recent downing of a Russian military jet by Turkey should serve as a reminder of the sage advice of Thomas Jefferson during his inaugural address, “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations-entangling alliances with none.” It is that last bit – “entangling alliances with none” that is most apropos. Turkey is a member of NATO, as is the US and virtually all other Western European countries. For anyone mindful of the deadly domino effect that plunged Europe into World War I (the assassination of a single man), this recent series of events should be a wake up call to de-escalate this situation as quickly as possible.
Fortunately, so far it seems Russia has shown an incredible level of restraint; one can only imagine the outpouring of jingoistic bellicosity had a US jet be downed by a close Russian ally. This may be simply that Russia is formulating a strategically crippling blow to Turkey or that it plans to milk this event diplomatically for all it is worth considering that Russian presently occupies the catbird seat of moral authority. The Russian jet was shot down and its pilots assassinated mid-air after entering Turkish airspace for a mere 17 seconds. Although Turkey insists the plane was warned for approximately 10 minutes to veer away lest it enter Turkish airspace, the standard course of action is to fire warning shots or to “escort” the plane back to the border. Yes, if Russia violated the airspace Turkey had a right to respond – proportionately. Mere flight is not in and of itself provocative enough to warrant instantaneous death, particularly when geographically it is the equivalent of flying over Key West and claiming a gross violation of the airspace of the US mainland. What Turkey did is akin to shooting the neighbor’s dog because it urinated on the edge of your lawn.
The magnitude of the overreaction by Turkey suggests something more is going on here. As it turns out this trivial border violation was but a pretext for Turkey to do what it has long wanted to do: directly provide military support for the Turkmen rebels in northern Syria who are fighting against Assad. The “airspace” violation merely provided cover to tactically engage with Russia without fully committing itself to an all out war with Russia over Syria. In other words, this was a sucker punch against a stronger opponent. Sometimes that tactic makes your opponent angry, but sometimes it stuns them into retreat. The outcome remains to be seen here.
So why attack that particular plane? It was on a well-known route that would end in it bombing regions of Syria where Turkmen reside. Russia has been bombing not only ISIS forces but also all those that oppose Assad, and this includes the Turkmen rebels fighting with the Free Syrian Army in the north. Sure enough, after the plane was shot down those Turkmen rebels shot and killed both airmen and destroyed a Russian rescue helicopter – with U.S.-made and supplied TOW rockets no less. The Turkmen (as one could have guessed) are ethnically Turkish but who happen to live on the wrong side of the arbitrarily drawn borders following the western led partitioning of the former Ottoman empire after World War I. Those arbitrary borders resulted in the Turkmen being inside what is today known as Syria. Turkey has long had an interest in aiding their ethnic siblings. Assad is no saint and has long suppressed the Turkmen minority (through attempts to Arabicize them, land seizures, and the banning of Turkish language). So to be sure there is plenty of blame to go around; there are no “good guys” in this Syrian conflict – not even the US, who in an attempt to undermine Assad (in furtherance of aiding our ally Turkey) gave arms to “Syrian rebels” who eventually morphed into ISIS and now threaten the stability of the entire region.
So in other words, our “entangling alliance” with Turkey, a moderate Islamic ally no doubt, resulted in the US directly playing a role in the creation of the most radical Islamic regime this world has even seen: ISIS. If the US is not careful, our entangling alliance with NATO and the requirement we come to the aid of NATO members who come under attack (i.e. Russian attacking Turkey in retaliation) may very well plunge us into World War III with a nuclear capable rival. Be afraid, be very afraid.