A new cri­sis in an old place

The Turks have en­raged the Rus­sians, but Vladimir Putin is not a mad man

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

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.

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