In the wake of the shocking terrorist attacks on Paris, French President Francois Hollande embarked on a round of high-level summitry at the start of the week just past to create an effective new “grand alliance” to defeat Isis. But his venture, already meeting a disappointing “more of the same” response from President Barack Obama in Washington, received an unexpected but timely setback Tuesday when trigger-happy Turkish fighter pilots, flying American-supplied F-16 interceptors, shot down a much slower Russian Su-24 fighter-bomber conducting air strikes against anti-Assad regime Turkmen rebels near the Syria/Turkey border.
The Turkmen are ethnically and politically aligned with NATO member Turkey. They also work closely with the local Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Thus one person’s elusive anti-Assad “moderate” is another’s jihadist.
By week’s end, with Hollande having moved his summitry from Obama in Washington to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris and on to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, the French president had only shards of a potential new grand alliance. The bottom line is the shiny new would-be venture looks like a somewhat enhanced version of the present, clearly insufficient, approach.
International anti-Isis efforts remained mostly stalled at the “intensification” of more of the same laid out by US President Barack Obama in his Washington talks with French President Francois Hollande.
Would the result have been different had Turkey not chosen to shoot down a Russian plane which may have veered momentarily — and this in the Turkish version, mind you — into its territory? We’ll never known.
The shoot-down was certainly curious.
Turkey’s snap-count shoot-down of a Russian Su-24 fighter-bomber threw a big spanner into the works, with NATO backing its member’s action of destroying the aircraft despite it having been inside Turkish air space — even by the Turkish accounting — for only 17 seconds. That’s less time than it takes Usain Bolt to run the 200-meter dash.
Russia says there was no incursion. Assuming, however, that there was, for the few seconds Turkey claims, the Russian plane evidently was heading away from Turkey. The wreckage landed in Syrian territory. And video footage of the missile striking the Russian plane shows no change in course after the first explosion.
For whatever reason the plane was shot down, the effect was to lessen the momentum toward a new anti-Isis coalition with Russia at its center. The Russians certainly seemed eager enough, especially after the Isis bombing of their airliner over Egypt, killing 224 Russian citizens, mostly tourists returning home from holiday in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Not surprisingly, Obama doesn’t seem to want Russia in the middle of things pertaining to Isis. For good and bad reasons, that’s understandable.
However, Obama seems to have nothing new to offer from the US. With Hollande, he apparently did little more than call for more European action and pledge America’s continued action. As I pointed out a few days
ago, what the US is doing now against Isis is simply insufficient.
Footage of the Turkish shoot-down of the Russian SU-24 fighter-bomber shows that it was heading away from Turkey at the time it was downed, as there was no course correction after the aircraft was hit and then spiraled down to crash in Syrian territory.
Certainly what Hollande took away from his highest-level discussions held less than two weeks after the shock and horror of the Paris attacks can’t have been anything like what he hoped for. Or what many had expected in the immediate wake of Friday the 13th.
Obama pledged to stay the course, an “intensification” of his insufficient strategy of the past year. Oh, and some more intelligence sharing with the French. Er, what intelligence would that be? Obama is already having to come to grips with US intelligence failures, principally of the “cooked” and non-existent varieties, despite the massive global surveillance apparat — much of its simply irrelevant to the anti-Isis conflict — he has presided over.
Hollande did get German Chancellor Angela Merkel, no doubt with some help from the US, to agree, despite her country’s shying from aggressive military ventures, to help against Isis by sending a naval ship and recon and refueling aircraft for the anti-Isis fight. And to send 650 German peacekeeping troops to free up French troops now in Mali, where the French intervened successfully to roll back jihadist advances.
While the limited but helpful German moves emerged, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced he would seek parliamentary approval to extend the UK’s anti-Isis air strike program from Iraq to Syria. Cameron had nothing to say about any other potential moves.
And what about Russia?
By the time he got to Moscow, Putin ordered up a menu of economic sanctions against an oddly unrepentant Turkey, until recently rather friendly with Russia, as a clearly piqued Putin repeatedly pointed out. Not surprisingly, Russian ground-strike aircraft will now be accompanied by top-line Russian fighter jets to prevent a recurrence of the Turkish shoot-down.
Hollande and Putin did agree to a new intel-sharing pact. Putin even agreed to more closely coordinate Russian air strikes — many of which are against other anti-Assad rebels — with the US-led coalition. And Hollande got Putin to agree to strike, as the French president put it, only Isis and other jihadists and not “the forces and groups that are fighting terrorism.”
Of course, defining who is a “jihadist” is very selective and subjective, at least in international politics. And the only non-Western forces fighting terrorism in Syria are the Kurds, who the Turks have been fighting, and, er, the Assad regime. Which Hollande, at least in the past, has wanted to get rid of a lot sooner than Russia, much less Iran.
And so the cross-purposes muddle of take down Isis vs. take down Assad, shows strong signs of surviving the Paris attacks.
As does the stay-the-course/more-of-the same mentality Obama keeps reiterating.
The containment strategy has moved only to containment-plus. There is no sign at the end of Hollande’s hoped-for big week of a strangulation strategy. I discussed how
Isis’s lines of communication — its ability to use the Internet to recruit, propagandize, and communicate with international assets; its ability to fund itself with the oil trade, other commerce, and major ideological fundraising; its ability to function within Islamic State territory via networks of surface transportation — can all be taken down with a highly aggressive set of efforts that don’t involve a conventional land invasion.
There is not a hint of anything like that coming out of Week 2 of the post-Paris era.
It’s as though some wanted the memory to just go away. Or to use it for tangential purposes.
Such as ending private encryption, notwithstanding the lack of any evidence that it played a role in what is actually a series of obvious conventional intelligence and security blunders that allowed the Paris attacks.
Such as implying that it is the Assad regime facilitating the Isis oil trade, rather than elements among the Saudis and some other Gulf Arabs who have long promulgated the extremist Wahhabi ideology Isis expounds and provided fortunes for jihadists around the world.
In other words, the non-seriousness of our system reasserted itself this week. And that doesn’t even begin to cover what Republican presidential candidates had to say.
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