The confusion over whose doing what in Syria reached a new height recently with the downing of a Russian bomber by the Turkish air force and the NATO discussions that followed it. So far, in public at least, NATO is standing behind Turkey’s right to protect its airspace – but that support isn’t exactly unqualified if you look a bit more closely. The Pentagon was quick to observe that the Su-24 was only in Turkish airspace for 17 seconds, and later revealed that it was already back in Syria when the missile hit it. Announcing this publicly was a not-so-subtle sign that the US military thinks Turkey over-reacted.
Of course, the State Department managed to embarrass themselves when a spokesman claimed that the Turkmen militia who killed the Russian pilot had the right to do so in self-defense – they didn’t; killing ejected aircrew is a war crime, no debate – and it later turned out that the group is led by a Turkish citizen, but that probably doesn’t matter now. By all accounts, the Russians have spent the last week pounding that particular group flat and then bombing the rubble- and they managed to hit an “aid convoy” with links to the Turkish government, too. But, just who the hell are the good guys over there and who are the bad guys?
Unfortunately, on paper at least, Turkey represents the good guys. The North Atlantic Treaty has worked pretty well for the last few decades, but now it obliges the rest of NATO to back up the Turkish government – and they’re not exactly reliable partners in the fight against the Islamic State. In fact, Russia seems to have pretty strong evidence that Turkey is buying oil from ISIS, and that’s the main source of their funding. The Turks are also bombing anti-ISIS Kurdish groups whenever they get too successful, because Turkey absolutely does not want an independent Kurdish state on its border.
I feel pretty sorry for the Turkish military in all this confusion. They have a long tradition of professionalism, and they’re also the last guardians of Kemal Ataturk’s secular ideals. That’s made them a target of the ruling islamist AKP party, with dozens of generals and senior field officers dismissed or jailed on fake charges of treason since Erdogan came to power. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the Turkish military, one of the most powerful in NATO, is now a liability when it should be a massive asset. Turkey could easily seal its border to prevent jihadis from flocking to Syria. It could stem the flow of refugees that ISIS is exploiting to infiltrate terrorists and generate tension. It hasn’t, because Erdogan doesn’t want to.
Unfortunately for Erdogan, this time he’s picked on someone who isn’t as easily pushed around as the Kurds or Angela Merkel. Russia is retaliating with economic sanctions, but they’ve also sent a clear sign that they won’t tolerate any more Turkish interference in their operations – they’ve deployed S-400 missiles to Syria. The S-400 has a 250-mile range and a phenomenal kill probability; it’s the best SAM Russia has produced so far, and SAMs are one thing Russia is very good at. It looks like Turkey has got the message because they’ve suspended air strikes inside Syria “to ease tensions.” More likely, they know that Russia is just itching to shoot down the first Turkish jet they see in Syrian airspace and, after the recent attack, Turkey can’t complain if they do. Neither should we.
Vladimir Putin is cynical, ruthless and aggressive. He doesn’t exactly share the same vision as most western leaders. But, when it comes to Syria, he’s on our side and our NATO ally Turkey is not. Obama and Cameron’s obsession with removing President Assad is a useless distraction; the priority is to eradicate ISIS and the other jihadi groups that have vowed to destroy our way of life. Our NATO ally, Turkey, isn’t helping to do that. Russia is. They’re bombing harder and more effectively than anyone else, and they’re the only ones with a clear strategic vision of how they want post-ISIS Syria to look. Is it a vision our governments share? No, but it doesn’t have any jihadis in it. Right now, that’s good enough for me.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.