A new crisis in an old place
The Turks have enraged the Russians, but Vladimir Putin is not a mad man
These are scary times. Miscalculations can be expensive, paid for by everyone. The shooting of a mere archduke set off World War I, and Japanese militarists thought they saw an unarmed America too proud to fight, and ordered the raid on Pearl Harbor. The Arab nations thought Israel would fold under attack, and started two wars that ended with the Arab nations folding like the accordion.
Nevertheless, hot heads like war, or think they do until the costs are settled, and the Middle East is fraught with ancient rivalries and lust for blood. There’s never a scarcity of tinder, waiting for someone to apply the match. With every crisis there’s the temptation to many to see the unfolding of Armageddon just ahead.
The Twitter network was frothing Monday afternoon with hashtags like “World War III” after the news that a Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter shot down a Russian Su-24 fighterbomber flying over the border between Syria and Turkey, and the world shudders. Could this be the miscalculation, if miscalculation it was, that brings on “the end of time?”
The world can take such comfort as it can in the fact that this is not a dispute between intractable or irrational men. These are not men intoxicated by the culture of death. Russian President Vladimir Putin is enraged, as he may be entitled, and calls the incident “a stab in our back, delivered by terrorist accomplices. I can’t characterize otherwise what has happened today.”
But assessments of the facts by most analysts suggest the immediate future belongs to diplomats, not soldiers. “The immediate implication of the shooting down of the aircraft is likely to remain limited to a diplomatic crisis,” says an analysis from the reliably authoritative Janes Terrorism and Insurgency Center. The diplomatic dancing began at once.
The Russian foreign minister cancelled a trip to Turkey that had been scheduled for this week, and the Turkish defense attache in Moscow was “urgently summoned” to receive an “official protest.” The Russian government contented itself for the moment by stating the obvious, that the work of the Turkish Air Force is “an unfriendly act,” and said “the Russian Defense Ministry is designing a complex of measures directed to respond to such incidents.”
President Putin said Russia would “never tolerate such atrocities,” and called for the “international community” to “fight this evil.” Angry words, but not the bluster of a man with an itching finger on a button to fire the first shots of Armageddon. He understands that an overreaction could provoke American and European economic pressure and even sanctions.
“Those of us, like me, who are old enough to remember the Cold War are thinking, ‘here we go again,’ Ian Shields, a professor of international relations at Anglia Ruskin University, tells NBC News. “Russia can lose on this. We are far more economically interdependent than we were before.”
Events seem out of control in the Middle East, indeed the world. Man learns slowly, determined to resist every lesson. Nostradamus is long gone, and no man can foretell the future. But this time Armageddon is likely to wait a little longer.