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Belligerence Toward Russia Won't Help Anything


Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet.

Per the link above, the US is publicly defending Turkey. I can understand that, since they are a NATO ally.

I have seen others (mostly online commentators, to be fair) applaud Turkey for giving Putin a bloody nose. Of course, this is childish and does nothing to ease the situation in the Middle East.

On top of that, antagonizing Russia in general is a bad idea if there is any desire to curb ISIS’ growth and influence. Russia backs both Iran and Assad’s Syria, who are instrumental to efforts to fight ISIS. All three countries have their issues, obviously, but so does NATO-and-thus-American-allied Turkey, which routinely bombs Kurdish fighters (whom the US heavily supports). Meanwhile, much of the ideological underpinning of ISIS has its roots in Saudi Arabia, which is also a major US ally, and from which almost all the 911 hijackers (and Osama bin Laden himself) originated. All this is to say that the situation is dynamic and complex. There is no amount of willpower or aggressive posturing that will make this situation go the way the US wants it to.

Few people (including, it seems, many international leaders and national-level politicians) seem to understand that international relations is not a test of wills. To some extent it is about consensus-building. Some countries do have the power to go it alone on a regular basis–such as the US and Russia. But there are costs to that, as well. The US’ reputation has suffered considerably since our ill-conceived invasion of Iraq (which laid much of the foundation for what is now ISIS), and we now find our friends in the global community less willing to cooperate with us in general because it is difficult to trust us.

Different countries want different things, for different reasons. Groups within countries have their own desires and political aims which affect and inform, to one degree or another, the decisions a country’s leadership makes–whether that country is democratic, despotic, or something in between. But the American approach to foreign policy is highly aggressive and unilateral: it’s our way or the highway. The Obama administration has toned this down somewhat but it’s not dramatically different from the way foreign policy was conducted under George W. Bush–it is still clear that the US will behave in whatever way we choose, regardless of the consequences or how our allies feel about it.

Particularly in terms of how international relations are discussed domestically, there is a pervasive sense that our allies are feckless and our enemies are either incomprehensible or just plain evil–and either way, deserving only of destruction. Reality is much more complex than this, and it does us no favors to believe in a world of heroes and villains. Nor does it behoove us to assume that every international problem has a clear right answer–usually, there isn’t one, and even if there is a solution that looks to be the “most correct,” achieving it may be politically difficult if not impossible. We live in a world of limited options and peoples and countries who have different worldviews and beliefs. They can’t be bullied into behaving the way we want them to just because we’re angry and making demands. If we want any hope at all of achieving our international aims, we must be willing to work (albeit probably in limited, short-term fashion) with people we may not consider the most trustworthy.

This applies to the situation with Turkey and Russia as much as it does to anything else. It make for a nice bit of chest-thumping to back up Turkey in shooting down a Russian fighter, but given that Russia is likely to be crucial to the success of any campaign against ISIS, hoping for them to suffer defeat and humiliation–and trying to craft foreign policy responses around that objective–is completely counterproductive. Our rationale should be more long-term, strategic, and thoughtful.

Photo by openDemocracy