Ruminations on the Great Game

If you are floating around on your yacht in the Black Sea and decide to visit your home on an island in the wine dark Aegean, you will have to first pass through the Bosphorus into the Sea of Marmara and then through the Dardanelles into the Aegean. If you keep going, you end up in the Mediterranean. It’s reasonable to say that a lot of the important stuff in Western history happened in and around what we call the Turkish Straights.

It’s also reasonable to say that a lot of what is going to happen in Western Civ will be happening in and around this area. Those Muslim hordes pouring into Europe are mostly crossing Asia Minor into Greece and the Balkans and then making their way to your town. The Turks have found a clever new weapon to lever concessions out of the Germans. They now control the flow of terrorists into the heart of Europe.

The downing of the Russian plane by the Turks is a reminder that the place where civilization started could very well be when it ends too. The Turks and the Russians have fought wars going back to the 16th century. It may go even further back as there are a lot of blond haired, green-eyed Turks. There are a lot of swarthy looking Russians who can grow a beard in hours. In other words, the two sides have been swapping wives the old fashioned way for a long time.

The most recent was 100 years ago when the Turks decided to try to recover some lost lands from the Russians during The Great War. With the Russians fighting the Germans and struggling to keep their army supplied, the Turks figured it was a good time to strike so they launched an attack into the Caucuses. It did not end well for the Turks, but it really did not end well for the Armenians. Anyone who has ever known an Armenian knows they will never forgive the Turks.

One of the many reasons America has no business mucking around in that part of the world is we know pretty much nothing about that part of the world. On the other hand, the people in that part of the world know everything about that part of the world. History for them is a nightmare from which they can never awake. All sides have old scores they would like to settle for no reason other than that’s who they are and that is what they do.

It’s why the Russians getting into Syria should be our sign to get the bleep out of the region and leave the locals to settle their disputes. The Turks should be told that NATO will not get involved in any war they start with the Russians. Maybe deliver it with a copy of Churchill’s The World Crisis, Volume II where he describes the thinking behind his plan to seize the Dardanelles. But, American leaders are too stupid to appreciate their own stupidity so we will blunder along regardless.

Of course, it is not just the Turks and Russians. The collapse of Syria is the latest chapter of the intra-Islamic war that is playing out in fits and starts between Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Persia (Shi’a). The former is willing to destroy OPEC in an effort to throttle Russia and Iran. The latter is willing to risk war with Israel (a war they would lose) in order to get a nuke, which would make them the regional hegemon.

The Russians, of course, have long range goals that have little to do with the war within Islam. They are just seeking advantage where they can find it. The Turks are Sunni so it is convenient for the Russians to play the game in order to provoke the Turks. It will not be long before the Russians figure out how to “help” the Kurds and maybe encourage them to demand a separate homeland. The odds of a full blown war between the Turks and Russians are small, but an unconventional war with the local variety of “little green men” popping up in Asia Minor is not out of the question.

Putin may have dreams of sacking Constantinople, driving off the Muslims and repopulating the place with Cossacks, but that seems unlikely. Instead, he probably sees an opening to regain influence over the Balkans. That fits with Putin’s pattern of casting himself as the protector of the Slavs. Plus, control of the Balkans means another pressure point on Europe. When your best customer is also paying you to keep the frontier under control, you become the indispensable man.

More important, increased influence in the Balkans means it is another entry point for Iranian oil and gas. Look at the map and you can see that Russian controls a third of the Black Sea coast. Building strong relations with the Balkan states and that control grows to more than fifty percent. If the Turks are pinned down with the Syrians to the South and restless Kurds in the east, they will not be much of a problem in the Balkans.

The Russians have been at this a long time. It is in their nature. Americans, on the other hand, can’t stop thinking about Hitler. It’s tempting to think the West is simply allergic to nationalism, but it may not be that sophisticated. Fear of Hitler keeps the defense dollars from Washington flowing. Millions of people make a tidy living watching out for Hitler. Reality simply does not pay as well.

Even so, 100 years ago conventional wisdom said war was a thing of the past. A 1910 best-selling book, The Great Illusion, used economic arguments to demonstrate that large scale wart had become unprofitable. Global commerce had eliminated war. You hear the same arguments today. If a country has a McDonald’s, it is no longer interested in war. Not long after The Great Illusion was published, war became inevitable and it started in the Balkans.

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7 Comments on "Ruminations on the Great Game"

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UKer
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I always point at chess. The reason the Russians are so good at the game is that, unlike the west, they are willing to play the long game. They have been brought up to wait and see what develops while never losing sight of the bigger picture and end-goal. Communism may not have worked out but that was an adjunct to, and not the nature, of the Russian people. it must be something to do with enduring long winters. In chess you evaluate and develop, wait and maneuvre. We however treat it all like a game of ‘pin the tail… Read more »
Lulu
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When you have someone in the Oval Office who cannot see beyond the image at the end of his selfie stick, it is difficult for him to see The Big Picture. We could use a chess player. But they would need to remember, as Robert Grudin wrote: “Chess, which exists predominantly in two dimensions, is one of the most difficult games. Three-dimensional chess is an invitation to insanity. But human relationships, even of the simplest order, are like a kind of four-dimensional chess, a game whose pieces and positions change subtly and inexorably between moves, whose players stare dumbly while… Read more »
Christopher S. Johns
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“Europe today is a powder keg and the leaders are like men smoking in an arsenal … A single spark will set off an explosion that will consume us all … I cannot tell you when that explosion will occur, but I can tell you where … Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans will set it off.”

Otto von Bismark (Comment during the Congress of Berlin in 1878, as quoted in “European Diary” by Andrei Navrozov, in Chronicles Vol. 32 (2008)).

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Otto_von_Bismarck

james wilson
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The Germans supplied the kindling for that one. They were counting on someone to supply the match. Putin does not have the same aims. He means to take advantage, not take over. War is not in his interests, and how could Europeans go to war in any event? Accidents happen, no doubt, but the Lusitania was no accident, nor particularly was Pearl Harbor. The Gulf of Tonkin was an invention, and even the Creator does not know what is in the mind of a Bush. Putin’s ambitions are less dangerous than our present inattentiveness because ambition may at least be… Read more »
Severian
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That fits with Putin’s pattern of casting himself as the protector of the Slavs

Funny, Tsar Nicholas II cast himself in the same role. I forget how that one turned out, but it does seem to be a pattern with Russian autocrats…..

…which is why I love being an American. We have the attention span of goldfish. Every day is a new adventure, completely unconnected to what came before! And our “leaders” are even better — they have the attention spans of concussed goldfish. Good times.

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Andy Texan
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Another great game is being played by O and the EU: end of the nation state global political division in favor of world feudalism. At the top of the heap are politicians, bureaucrats and billionaires delivering their edicts to the enthralled masses. Two main weapons are being employed, islamic and other peasant migrants and energy rationing. The Plan is progressing well. Can it be stopped?

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