With the ongoing love fest between Turkey and Russia, there are several interesting and dangerous scenarios emerging for the United States.
For years Incirlik Air Base has been the centerpiece of NATO forces on the southern tier of this alliance. This air base is also home to the U.S. nuclear force which serves as a deterrent to possible Russian adventurism.
Although it is a long arduous way for the Russians to gain access to this base, official requests have been made as a launch pad for Russian air strikes against Syrian rebels. Imagine, for the moment, a situation in which NATO permits this Russian access. Fifty U.S.-B61 nuclear warheads would be vulnerable to Russian intervention; a key U.S. deterrent would be rendered nugatory.
Moreover, there is the additional fear that these weapons of mass destruction are only 65 miles from the Syrian border and ISIS forces. Unaided by Turkish troops, it might be difficult for a small contingent of U.S. forces to prevent a breach in the present security arrangement.
Igor Morozov, a Russian official, said, “It just remains to come to an agreement with Erdogan that we get the NATO base Incirlik as [our] primary airbase.” Assuming the plausibility of this claim, Russian aircraft would be flying out of Iran and Turkey, a truly unprecedented situation.
Not only would this gesture add to Russian ascendency in the region, it would unequivocally demonstrate the diminished status of the United States. Russia has emerged as the Middle East “strong horse,” despite an economy rocked by failure and entirely dependent on the price of oil.
What has surprised U.S. State Department officials is the rapidity of this change. Part of the explanation lies with President Erdogan who believes the U.S. was at least partially responsible for the recent coup against his government by harboring Mr. Gulen – the man Erdogan believes planned and executed the plot against him.
Perhaps more notable is the virtual silence from the White House about expansive Russian activity in the area. One might have assumed a display of concern about the Russian request for the use of Incirlik. Surely the Russian-Iranian-Turkish demarche should be regarded as an alarming concern.
President Obama’s continued belief that all will ultimately turn on its axis leading to regional stability is far-fetched. The area suffers from deep rooted pathologies and an Islamic belief in power. When you have it and do not use it, you lose face in addition to bargaining power. It is noteworthy that in Erdogan’s negotiations with Russian leaders the U.S. was conspicuously absent from the conversation.
If President Obama’s aim is to extricate the U.S. from entanglements in the Middle East, he has achieved his goal. In doing so however, the U.S. has lost standing with our allies and is in a position similar to the Soviet stance in 1973 when it was summarily dismissed from Middle East affairs.
There are Americans who believe there isn’t a price to be paid for withdrawal since the world is a cesspool and our involvement in it will not improve conditions. This isolationist rationale is a pipe dream that reoccurs for existentialists ignorant of the past. There is usually a cost associated with retreat or disarmament and that cost appears in blood.
Lest we forget, the final volume of Winston Churchill’s The Second World War is entitled “How the Great Democracies Triumphed and so Were Able to Resume the Follies Which Has so Nearly Cost Them Their Life.”
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org
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