Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Irony of the Past - Turkey and Russia



The world’s history surrounding the World Wars is so fascinating because, through a form of dramatic irony, we get to see the unraveling of a complicated web of powerful alliances. We now know, or at least have a better idea, how the stories unfolded. Today a similarly complicated series of stories is being told through state, non-state, and quasi-state actors. Ironically, our situational irony distracts us from the dramatic irony a future generation will obviate in retrospect as, ironic.

Now that we framed confusion let me note that I believe Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict was not necessarily a game changer; it was an unsurprising adjustment to the bracket of participants. All the participants were playing the same game – some form of countering rebellion. Russia favored the league with the Syrian based on a long-standing set of mutual interests. Turkey favored a different league, as had the West. Consequently, the shooting down of a Russian jet, by Turkey, and subsequent killing of one or more of those pilots and rescue teams is a game changer. It changes entirely the game Russia plays in the region, from countering rebellion to demonstrating regional power. Russia’s reaction to Turkey also has the potential to change how the rest of the Syrian conflict participants react to Russia’s reaction to Turkey.

Since we cannot yet know for sure what that reaction really will be, and since we cannot yet know how the international community will react, collectively or individually (our situational iron), we rely on contextualizing the present with the past. Here is a nice historical synopsis, written in 1949, to put the Turkey-Russia relationship in context. Suffice it to say, they have tried to form a relationship, but they have struggled to make it a friendly one. If the game truly changes, who will join whose side, and who will watch for opportunities from the sideline? The other question I wonder, given our country's intense focus on countering terrorism coupled with the interests of international actors in the region, is are we playing the right game?

(paid access may be required)