The Eastern Question, Great Game, and Modern Hot Wars: Policy Lessons and Statecraft Implications for US Relations with Russia, Turkey, and Iran in the 21st Century
Doyle, Paula Ann
This study provides additional context for unacknowledged but sustained Russian and Iranian hot wars against the United States that unfolded and became normalized in the 2010s. It examines key events through four constructs: balance of power, containment, NATO enlargement, and post-9/11 counterterrorism policies and statecraft practices as they pertained to the long-unresolved Eastern Question. To the extent that history rhymes, cyclical patterns emerge stemming back to the Eastern Question that highlight three variables US policymakers and statecraft practitioners can expect to encounter. First, the United States and its multilateral and bilateral alliances can expect to confront Russia and Iran – not just contain, sanction, and isolate them. Confrontation not need mean war, but history suggests that war and the threat of war cannot be eliminated as a legitimate instrument of power. Russia and Iran have no tradition of waging wars for the sake of peace, prosperity, and democracy. Russia’s invasions of South Ossetia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, annexation of Crimea in 2014, and placement of air, land, sea, and cyber capabilities in Syria in 2015 aimed to curb NATO enlargement and military capabilities along the Black Sea and Turkey’s southeastern border. These Russian actions all but guarantee the use of military force against the United States and its allies. Iran’s incorporation of Hizballah into military operations in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and Afghanistan also all but guarantee the continued use of military force against the United States and its allies. It is not in America’s short- or long-term interests to be involved in unacknowledged but sustained hot wars with Russia and Iran. US and allied troops have died at their hands and the American public has a right to know that her men and women are not just battling terrorism; they are confronting nation states that have or aspire to have nuclear weapons. This study finds that new confrontation policies, like Cold War containment policy, must label the threats and threat actors without ambiguity or sophistry. They must set clear unified strategies to confront the threats and threat actors as a whole – not as discrete and fragmented Russian and Iranian parts. Second, if the United States and allies do not accelerate efforts to become energy independent and energy secure, they will remain dependent upon sustaining cordial relations with the world’s leading undemocratic, corrupt, and intolerant governance practices by leaders and kleptocrats in Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. Every time the United States cozies up to these nations’ practices in the name of energy security, the tarnish thickens on American promotion of democratic principles, the rule of law, and the bold notion that all people are born free. America’s projection of military, economic, diplomatic, and intelligence powers needs an equal commitment to liberty, freedom, and human dignity. This means a willingness to withhold military sales, favorable loans, and intelligence from nations like Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq that repeatedly work to undermine American goals towards peace, prosperity and democracy. Third, the geostrategic gateway between Russian and Iranian hot wars against the United States and allies will continue to run through Turkey. As this study came to an end in mid-2020, there were many reasons for caution with respect to Turkey’s place in the NATO alliance. Internally, its governance style had turned more undemocratic than some prior cycles, and there were mounting concerns about corruption. Externally, Ankara had entered into a dangerous series of harmful agreements with Russia and diplomatic engagements with Iran. If historic trends rhyme, however, the United States and Turkey will need each other even more as both nations and other NATO partners confront hot wars with Russia and Iran while also striving for energy independence and security from Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. On a positive note, this study shows that overcoming challenges has been an enduring hallmark of the bilateral US-Turkish alliance. By extension, as the US has overcome various challenges with Ankara, so, too, has the broader NATO alliance. The US-led war in Iraq forever changed the region and Turkey’s ability to protect its southeastern border. Having taken the actions that unleashed great forces and grievances across the Levant, this study argues that the US needs a new umbrella policy and an integrated set of national strategies for the vast East. Beyond confronting Russia and Iran, the umbrella policy needs to assure Ankara that it will not be left to fight Russia, Iran, and terrorism on its own. This assurance should have no conditions – because confronting Russia, Iran, and terrorism is the alliance’s interest. If and when Ankara restores an independent judiciary and embraces the rule of law and foundational freedoms of speech, assembly, and petition, a new umbrella policy should commit to establishing broader US diplomatic, economic, military, and intelligence relations with Ankara. The way forward must first confront and stop Russia and Iran, however, and reassure allies that the United States and NATO are equipped and willing to stand by their collective defense agreements in the cause of peace, prosperity, and democratic principles. Future National Security Strategies will continue to require the United States to place interoperable military and intelligence capabilities as close as possible to the most potent threat actors. For the foreseeable future, this means working with Turkey to overcome its serious transgressions with Russia and Iran and doubling down on measures that will protect and defend it and other littoral Black Sea nations from Russian aggression. This course of action need not be viewed as a capitulation or a “reward” for bad Turkish behavior, but rather as a clear and unambiguous signal to Moscow and Tehran that Turkey has a prominent home in the NATO alliance and that the US will fight scrappily to keep it on side. It means also understanding that Ankara is not able to confront the Bear and the Lion without allied support. If history rhymes, it means that when pressured to choose, the cornered Wolf will embrace democratic principles, the rule of law, and human rights before surrendering its proud identity and hard-won freedoms to the likes of Russia or Iran. Alliances are hard work; Turkey is worth it.
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