(Photo: OZAN KOSE, AFP/Getty Images/USAToday)
There is a crisis brewing right now that many Americans seem blissfully ignorant of, though it has the latent potential to start a third World War.
The announcement by Vladimir Putin that Russia has deployed combat troops and aircraft to Syria further escalates a conflict that was already serious into what may become the defining foreign policy problem of this young twenty-first century. With the entry of Russia into the Syrian conflict the bulk of the world’s military powers and terrorist organizations are now actively involved on the ground.
The United States, Great Britain (pending parliamentary approval that is widely expected to be granted), France, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, to say nothing of the Syrian Free Army and the Kurds, were already duking it out in the region in a complicated and confusing web of alliances, counter-alliances, ambushes and air strikes.
Russia complicates matters because no one is quite sure what Putin will do or what exactly he is up to. Officially the Russians have stated that they are there to help fight ISIS, but reports have already come out saying that Russian jets have targeted the positions of Syrian rebel groups supported by the United States and that Russian ground forces have engaged other American-supported groups. Plus, only “The Idiot” would take the Vladimir Putin at his official word.
If Russia is going to directly deploy military personnel to prop up Bashar al-Assad, a dictator who the United States has already made clear has to go for a chance of peace in the region (and it looks like that is exactly what is happening) then there is certainly a high chance of a proxy war rapidly developing between the United States and the Russian Federation in the Middle East, with the Arab League and Iran somewhere in the middle.
This potential for escalation is complicated by continuing developments in the Ukraine, where the Russian-backed groups continue to skirmish with the troops of the American-backed Ukrainian government. Indeed, Russian deployment to Syria has now linked two of the most delicate flashpoints in the world, and the question of what might happen if America retaliates in Ukraine in response to Russian aggressions in Syria.
Diplomats and military officers from all of the above nations are already meeting to try and map out conflict de-escalation and what a military official has termed deconfliction, essentially fancy terms for “making sure we don’t bomb each other.”
However, with so many military forces involved in a relatively small strategic operating zone at one time, the potential for a rapidly widening conflict is certainly present. Such a conflict may have serious consequences for us all.