26 November 2015
Let's talk Turkey
Just the thing everyone was afraid of happened this week: a NATO power shot down a Russian plane in the Syrian war zone. That's where the Russians claim it happened, but the Turks say that the Russian bomber had violated their national air space, ignoring repeated warnings (the surviving crewman denies hearing any) before it was brought down. It fell on the other side of the border in rebel-held Syrian territory, from which the surviving Russian was rescued soon afterward. President Putin called the shootdown a "stab in the back" and accused Turkey of supporting ISIS. President Erdogan retorted that Putin is more interested in protecting the Syrian dictator than in his stated goal of destroying ISIS. His evidence is that Russia has been bombing a border region where ISIS is nowhere to be found. Instead, the Turks claim, the Russians are attacking Turkomen Syrians, Sunnis and ethnic kin to the Turks, who oppose Assad but aren't affiliated with ISIS or al-Qaeda. The Russians, however, see any group that opposes Assad as "terrorists." The Turks claim that a campaign of ethnic cleansing is underway in the border region, the Turkomens being oppressed by the Syrian government, by Russian air power, and by pro-Assad Syrian Kurds. The Turks hate Kurds wherever they find them, and the Erdogan government itself has been accused of taking their eye off the ball, of being more interested in fighting Kurds in both Syria and Iraq than in fighting ISIS. Turkey belongs to the "Assad must go" camp; despite alleged authoritarian tendencies of his own, Erdogan opposes the other "authoritarian" forces in this conflict: Assad, the Russians and the Iranians. But let's be honest: this isn't a simple "anti-authoritarian" or "anti-terrorist" conflict for any of the belligerents. That should be obvious when Saudi Arabia is part of the "Assad must go" camp. All the countries in that coalition could live with Assad and his oppression of his people, if he wasn't friends with Iran, if he would make peace with Israel, etc., etc. You can argue likewise that Russia and Iran are less concerned with "terrorism," and much less concerned about the Syrian people, than with the strategic advantages they enjoy as long as Assad retains power. It's fine that all these countries want to destroy ISIS but unless they forswear their other strategic concerns their inherent conflicts will leave openings where Daesh can still flourish, while people who are "innocent," insofar as they are not ISIS, will suffer. If the international community wants to outlaw ISIS, they should not leave it to individual nations to enforce the ruling. Otherwise each nation, unregulated, will pursue its own interests, and their contradictory interests will have consequences like those we've seen in the disputed skies above the battlefield. Syria today is the best argument for international law enforced by a single global authority, indifferent to the interests of any one nation or group of nations. For all we know, a just outcome in Syria and Iraq would please none of the meddling powers, and that might be the proof that it was just.