Hamilton: World at peril: let’s talk turkey
December 4, 2015
If the dispute between Austria and Serbia over the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand in 1914 could set off World War I, just look at today's Middle East. World War III could break out along a line that runs from the Russian naval base in the Crimea, across the Black Sea, across Turkey, and then across the Mediterranean to the Russian naval bases at Latakia and Tartus, Syria.
Turkey's geographic location offers many opportunities to apply the axiom: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Turkey is surrounded by multiple nation-states. To the south, Syria and Iraq. To the east, Iran, Armenia, the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhchian and the state-less Kurds. To the northeast, Georgia. Bulgaria is to the northwest and Greece is to the west. Moreover, Turkey lies between the Aegean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Black Sea that borders southern Russia.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be suffering from an international relations bi-polar disorder. At the same time that Erdogan is asking for Turkey to be admitted to the mostly non-Muslim (for now) European Union, Erdogan is trying to convert Turkey from the secular nation-state founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 into a radical Muslim dictatorship like the Mullahs established in Iran in 1979.
To make matters more complex, Turkey is a member of NATO and, if under attack by Russia, Turkey could ask NATO to invoke Article 5 which means that the other members of NATO are obliged to come to the military aid of Turkey.
Erdogan, a Sunni Muslim, dislikes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an Alawite Shia, who is the client of the Shia Mullahs running Iran. Erdogan and Assad have engaged in minor aerial battles. Erdogan even tried; however, without success, to get NATO to invoke Article 5 against Assad's Syria.
Putin sees his naval bases in the Syrian ports of Tartus and Latakia as vital Russian interests. But Turkey controls the waterway between the Black Sea and Putin's access to his naval bases in Syria. Naturally, Putin wants Assad to remain in power. So, in that sense, Putin is allied with both Syria and with Iran which, of course, wants to destroy Israel and the United States.
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Because Putin is supporting Assad, Erdogan personally gave the order to shoot down a Russian SU-24 fighter. The conflict between Erdogan and Putin is complicated by the need of the U.S. Air Force to use the airbase at Incirlik in southern Turkey to attack ISIS targets in northern Iraq.
Erdogan and Iran don't want the Kurds to form an independent nation-state. Erdogan and Iran pressure President Obama to not give the Kurds the heavy weapons they need to defeat ISIS. Supposedly, the U.S. is helping the Syrian rebels depose Assad. But with ISIS looming as a larger threat than Assad, the U.S. might covertly support Assad which would be a rebuff to Turkey and a boon for Russia, Syria, and Iran — all enemies of the U.S.
This international fur ball which is due, in large part, to the U.S. "leading from behind," makes what happened in Sarajevo in 1914 seem stone simple. But now, the fate of the world may rest on the conflicting personalities of Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan. Oy vey!
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, is a laureate of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma University Army ROTC Wall of Fame, and is a recipient of the University of Nebraska 2015 Alumni Achievement Award. He was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the Infantry School, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.