Sunday, October 7, 2012

Consequences of Turkish Military Intervention in Syria

It’s time to think seriously about the consequences of Turkish military intervention in Syria. Ankara’s patience with Asad’s survival skills is running out. In addition, the Turkish Islamist government knows if Asad survives, the Turks will have a Syrian adversary on their Southern border more closely aligned with Tehran than ever; something the Sunni Muslim Islamist Turkish government does not want. The point is if and when the Turks intervene in Syria, a Sunni Muslim Islamist Government allied with Ankara will be established in Damascus.

This development effectively places Turkish military power on Israel’s border. Americans should not confuse weak Arab military performance with Turkish military power. The Turks are ferocious soldiers fanatically committed to the destruction of whatever enemy they confront. Their equipment is good, in some cases, excellent and the Turkish Forces – air, land and sea – know how to use the technology they have. For the Turks, a confrontation with Israel would be an all or nothing proposition. The Islamist regimes in Egypt, Syria and the peninsula will operate in support under Turkey’s Islamist leadership personified by PM Erdogan. Next year, Jordan is very likely to join the Islamist ranks. The Amman government is already on life support and won’t last too much longer. When Jordan falls into Islamist hands, the stage is set for a very dangerous future confrontation.

If and when the Islamist Turks establish themselves in Syria, they will begin building a regional Sunni Islamist Alliance with Saudi financial assistance, something many observers insist is already underway. With Turkish military access to Syria, Turkish military power is close enough to Israel for Turkish ground forces to “lean into” any WMD fire the Israelis initiate putting Israel towns and cities at risk of destruction by Israeli weapons of mass destruction. Since we in the US have not confronted a serious enemy that could put our forces in the field at risk since 1950 our journalists and “military analysts” have trouble imagining such a conflict, but it would be a serious mistake not to think about it, even plan for it.

As Quincy Wright wrote many, many years ago in his monumental work, A Study of War, “A single unexpected change in international relations, such as that of the Soviet-German pact in 1939, had an influence on many relations in a way which [conventional wisdom and quantitative analysis] could not foresee.” In 1939, conventional wisdom predicted an imminent war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Conventional wisdom was wrong. War with the Western powers began first.

Today’s conventional wisdom treats Iran as the principle challenge to Israeli and Western interests, but this assertion, as Quincy Wright suggests, is misleading. Like Richard Nixon in 1973, we would have to intervene with US ground forces or turn millions of Israeli Jews over to the tender mercies of attacking Turkish forces. For those who do not appreciate what a Turkish offensive would entail, I suggest reading about the Red Army’s march in 1944-45 across Poland, Slovakia, Bohemia, Moravia, Romania, Hungary and Eastern Germany. The experience with the Turks would be similar.

In the future, think of Turkey, not Iran, as the greatest potential Islamist threat to Western and Israeli security. The Germans, Poles, Russians, Ukrainian and Balkan Slavs are well aware of this point. Erdogan is on the record preaching the Islamicization of Europe to his countrymen living in Central and Northern Europe.

Pretending the NATO alliance is truly meaningful in this strategic context would be a mistake. NATO, like all of the institutions created in the strategic vacuum after WW II are crumbling. In most ways, NATO is already “dead man walking.”

Iran is internally weak, socially divided and militarily insignificant. However, Iran is a State that given time could prove to be a useful partner since Israel, the West and Shiite Iran share the same adversaries in the East (Pakistan) and in the West (Middle East) - the Sunni Muslim Islamists. As Napoleon said, “A general who cannot think beyond the limits of his map board will never be a great commander.” It’s time to think beyond the present. After all, conventional wisdom is usually high on convention and low on wisdom.

Douglas Macgregor, PhD

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