So why did Turkey shoot down that Russian plane? According to the Russian president Dmitri Medvedev, it was all about Turkey (a) being hand in glove with Islamic State in general, and (b) wanting to protect the lucrative joint Turkish/Islamic State trade in oil smuggling.
The trouble with that theory isn’t the fact of Turkish/ISIL oil smuggling – no one doubts that – but where the jet was shot down. It was in the northwest which, as Juan Cole points out, is al Qaeda territory, whereas the ISIL–controlled region lies in the northeast. Therefore, the more credible theory for the deliberate shootdown is that the Russian jets have been disrupting the smuggling routes of weapons, not oil. The Russians jets have been pummelling the supply lines of anti- tank weaponry which is being smuggled by the CIA and the Turks through Turkmen Mountain – situated in the north of Latakia province – and bound for the local Sunni Turkmen fighting the Assad regime. When it suits them, these Turkmen fighters enter into strategic alliances with the Salafi fundamentalist groups who are themselves allied with, or outright franchisees of, al-Qaeda. Yes, the US is pouring in arms that – not too indirectly – end up furthering the aims of al Qaeda in one part of northern Syria, and Islamic State in the other part.
Turkey has backed anti-Assad fundamentalist groups in northern Syria for a very long time. (Turkey has also been a conduit for foreign fighters wanting to join ISIL, but that’s another story.) Besides its wider goal of seeking to topple Assad, Turkey is generally fearful of and opposed to the left wing Kurdish Peoples Protection Units – who are incidentally, the only really effective fighting force on the ground against Islamic State. In particular, the Turks are alarmed about what the steadily expanding field of control of the Kurds may herald for the Arab and Turkmen populations in the cantons of northern Syria that Kurdish may well end up controlling as a virtual mini-state, once they’ve driven out the remnants of ISIL.
As Cole says, it’s very much a proxy war in that respect. Turkey is fearful that the Russian jets will disrupt the flow of American arms to its proxies who are sometime al Qaeda allies – because this will tilt the balance in favour of Turkey’s prime enemies, who are ( a) Assad and (b) the Kurds. And Russia ? It is fighting a proxy war, too. Here’s the convincing explanation that Cole puts forward:
Rabia [a town in northern Latakia province) is just southwest of the Idlib city of Jisr al-Shughour, which fell to al-Qaeda and its allies in late April. This city is a potential launching pad for the conquest of Latakia Province by hard line Salafi groups who are hand in hand with al-Qaeda.
One of Russia’s current strategic goals is to keep Latakia Province from falling to the rebels. Latakia contains a crucial port of the same name, as well as the Tartous naval facility leased to the Russians. Latakia is heavily Alawite, the Shiite group that is a mainstay of the al-Assad government.
Therefore, how the proxy war pans out in Latakia is of crucial importance to the Assad regime’s survival, and the city/province is also of significant direct value to the Russians. Mainly, as the site of a Russian base that’s part of their naval force projection into the Mediterranean.
So, did the Turks deliberately shoot down the Russian jet – as this proxy war suddenly became personal? For months apparently, the religiously conservative Turkish press has been beating a drum about the need to protect their brethren Turkmen – who are a somewhat separate ethnic group but happen to speak a similar language to that spoken in Turkey. Via the BBC Monitoring Service. Cole cites a number of examples from the Turkish media, including this one:
The religious-Right Yeni Safak wrote (BBC Trans.): “Turkmen Mountain? It is Turkey’s ‘red’ line! No-one should assume that Turkey is just watching and waiting. So many things are being done behind the scenes! We will soon see them. Ankara will not be deterred by Turkey’s enemies! What is going on is an ‘unannounced world war’! Briefly, independent Muslim Turkey is putting up a vital fight against the Crusader-Zionist alliance!”
Incredibly as it may seem to a New Zealander, the center-right Turkiye news outlet has even reportedly compared Russia’s campaign against the Jabal Turkmen as a “Second Gallipoli”. And we know how that ended, with the guns of the Ottoman Turks repelling the foreign invaders. Oh, and in WW1, Russia attacked eastern Anatolia, so WW1 really is all on again – at least according to the conservative power base for Turkey’s current leadership. As proxy wars tend to evolve, there is the obvious risk of direct conflict : Turkey cannot abandon the Turkmen, and Russia cannot abandon Latakia and Assad. The US meanwhile, uneasily plays both sides. The US goal is to perpetuate a bloody stalemate where neither side – Assad or the fundamentalists – wins in Syria. Currently and more immediately, the ball is now in Putin’s court.
Goff and the mayoralty
In the column a few days ago about Phil Goff’s tilt for the Auckland mayoralty, I mentioned that the man from Mt Roskill isn’t standing on the Labour ticket, but omitted any speculation about his likely campaign tactics. For now, it can be assumed he’ll follow something like the Hillary Strategy. During 2015, Clinton has tilted leftwardsto consolidate her base– eg by voicing soft opposition to the TPP – and has thereby denied oxygen to her rivals on the left, such as Bernie Sanders.
Once we enter 2016, Sanders has been seen off, and the centre-left base has nowhere else to go, Hillary will drift back to the centre right of the Democratic Party where she really belongs. Goff, as part of Labour’s centre right, will probably do likewise. So we might hear some populist noises from Goff initially, but Red Phil will become a quieter, softer shade of pink as we get closer to election day, and the courting of the business community begins in earnest. So the likes of Cameron Brewer should just take a stress pill for now, and wait for better news to come.
You Can’t Chop Down Symmetry
Back in the early 1980s, Jane Siberry came across as a Canadian version of Laurie Anderson, though more fey and folkish. The “Symmetry” track came from Siberry’s 1984 album No Borders. The video makes stunning use of Busby Berkeley – the 1930s genius of symmetrical dance routines. This particular BB sequence comes from the 1934 film Dames, and is utterly jaw dropping…
And then there’s the Ginger Rogers performance of “We’re In The Money”….notable for its not very subliminal connections between money and sex, and for Rogers’ incredible close-up rendition that deliberately evolves into gibberish. Money talks, and in a language of its own.