Friday, October 28, 2016

When Ambitions Expand and American Willingness to Defend Stability Falters

With the world seeming so fluid as nations adjust to more aggressive regional powers like Russia and Iran and a rising (for now) China combined with uncertainties about the willingness of America to defend allies from these aggressive powers, I would not be shocked if Turkey withdrew from NATO to align with Russia.

What is Turkey up to?

FEARS are mounting that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan is hell-bent on expanding his country’s territory after giving a string of provocative speeches referencing Turkey’s claim to more land.

The leader’s comments are fuelling speculation that the Middle Eastern nation is intent on land grabbing parts of Iraq, Syria and the Greek islands.

Russia, too, is talking tough and leaning forward. Russia may aim to rebuild influence in the eastern Mediterranean.

Is there room for cooperation between frenemies here?

Really, Russia and Turkey are two rump states that used to control far larger empires. They could find common cause to begin to restore their empires at the expense of American influence, which appears to be faltering in the eastern Mediterranean.

While Russia and Turkey have  gone to war many times over the centuries (8 back to the 16th century by my quick scan through my Dictionary of Wars. Yes, I have a Dictionary of Wars), Russia's shrinkage since 1989-1991 has eliminated land borders between the two. So there is less danger of the two fighting in a major way.

So in theory, both have opportunities to expand their influence and perhaps territory southward at the expense of America's influence in the Middle East.

This is my gaming hat I'm wearing, I admit, and not based on anything concrete. Just a look at theoretical opportunities.

So what if Russia and Turkey allied to advance their positions in the Middle East region?

Could Turkey seize land in Iraq, Syria, Cyprus, and the Aegean Sea after announcing their withdrawal from NATO and the ejection of all NATO personnel from Turkey?

Could Russia quietly ally with Turkey who would pledge to keep the Turkish Straits open to Russian warships regardless of treaty obligations on the straits?

Could Russia pose as the protector of Greece and Syria by warning Turkey not to take more land, when Turkey and Russia have actually worked out the limits of advance ahead of time?

Perhaps Syria and Greece eagerly grant Russia expansive basing rights.

Sure, you might say that Greece might embrace NATO more energetically to face a newly non-NATO Turkey. But what if latent anti-Americanism and the fallout from alienation from the European Union over financial matters actually leads the Greeks to view NATO--which is unlikely to go to war with Turkey over some Greek islands any more than NATO fought Turkey 40 years ago when Turkey took northern Cyprus--as less effective than Russia?

So maybe Greece pulls out of NATO and the EU and rents bases in Crete to Russia after ejecting NATO.

I don't buy the notion that a Russian base in Syria or anywhere in the Mediterranean is useless to Russia without access to the Turkish Straits to get to supply sources in the Black Sea  (Russia--when it was the USSR--based a lot of naval and air power in the eastern Mediterranean Sea with a NATO Turkey blocking that path).

But alliance with Turkey ends that objection to the usefulness of the bases.

And maybe Russia does manage to flip Egypt back to alliance with Russia, potentially cutting off our easy access to CENTCOM via the Suez Canal.

Maybe Russia backs Egyptian efforts to support General Hiftar in eastern Libya, potentially granting Russia basing rights in the future to bases there.

Iran might be able to strong arm Iraq into conceding Turkish land grabs in northern Iraq as Russia poses as the party restraining Turkish ambitions. Perhaps this is the time for Iran to unleash a Sadrist coup that throws Iraq into chaos that Turkey can exploit. And in the aftermath, Iran's stooges control a smaller Iraq.

And then perhaps Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria team up to crush Kurdish aspirations for autonomy or independence. Iraq at least regains some lost land in their Kurdish region--divided between Iraq and Turkey.

And America is shown to be less useful than Russia, Turkey, and Iran as an ally, with Americans kicked out of Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, and Iraq's Kurdish regions.

Perhaps we hold the line of our losses in Italy, the Balkans (but Bulgarian voices are making nice noises to Russia these days), and Tunisia, plus western Libya to the west; and hold the line on the Arabian peninsula (minus Yemen) to the south.

Jordan blows with the winds and adjusts their policies away from America.

Lebanon sees Hezbollah grow in power.

And at that point America will have been effectively pushed out of the eastern Mediterranean with only Israel a reliable and strong friend there (assuming the American government reduces the hostility that has been expressed by the current administration). [UPDATE: Is the administration preparing a parting shot at Israel?]

This would be worse than the Cold War when we at least had Iran under the Shah on our side (although the USSR loomed over Iran, then--and is now pushed farther north on either side of the Caspian Sea to rump Russia).

Again, this is a map exercise with recent news as the seeds to grow a dramatic scenario. Odds are that predicting future trends along the lines of past trends is the way to go on any given day.

But when things are in flux, long trend lines can bend and break off into new directions.

Both Russia and the Arab world have been thrown into chaos from developments in 1989 and 2011, respectively. The space that lies between these regions in flux could join the parade of change.

UPDATE: And what is Russia up to? Did they attempt to stage a coup in Montenegro to prevent that country from joining NATO? There is no smoking gun. But the circumstantial evidence is "suggestive."