American leadership needed after downing of Russian fighter jet

FILE In this Oct. 22, 2015 file photo, a Russian Su-24 takes off on a combat mission at Hemeimeem airbase in Syria. Turkey shot down a Russian warplane Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, claiming it had violated Turkish airspace and ignored repeated warnings. Russia denied that the plane crossed the Syrian border into Turkish skies. (AP Photo/Vladimir Isachenkov, File)

The fears of having too many cooks in the Syrian kitchen were realized Tuesday.

Turkey shot down a Russian fighter plan, a long-feared crisis in Syria’s civil war and apparently the first time a NATO member has downed a Russian plane in a half-century.

At least one of the pilots was reported killed. Russian President Vladimir Putin called Turkey’s action a “stab in the back by the terrorists’ accomplices” and warned of “significant consequences.” At Turkey’s request, NATO’s governing body called an emergency meeting. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has canceled his visit to Turkey, which was planned for Wednesday.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu insisted his country has the right to take “all kinds of measures” against border violations, and called on the international community to work toward “extinguishing the fire that is burning in Syria.” Turkey said the Su-24 ignored several warnings that it was nearing, then intruding, into Turkish airspace.

Russia insisted the plane stayed over Syria, where it was supporting ground action against rebels. “We will never tolerate such atrocities as happened today and we hope that the international community will find the strength to join forces and fight this evil,” Putin said.

The stakes here are very high.

Even as French President Francois Hollande is hopping from nation to nation meeting with world leaders, including a stop this week in Moscow, his attempts to build a coalition against ISIS just got much more difficult.

Will NATO and Putin be able to walk back from the brink after such a provocative move by Turkey?

Even if they can, are there any real hopes of forging a true alliance in the war on terror?

To be clear, a Russian fighter jet would quickly meet the same fate if it flew over U.S. air space and the Turks deserve the ability to defend their border – both in air and on the ground. One would hope that Turkey alerted the U.S. and other allies before pulling the trigger. The Turkish military says the jet was repeatedly warned to leave Turkey before it was engaged.

Time will tell whether that is true. No doubt, Putin has been emboldened in recent years and has a habit of ignoring the borders of others. The West must take a strong stance against the Russian despot’s bullying ways – but risking a shooting war with a NATO ally when so much in the world seems to be spinning out of control would seem unwise. The Obama administration can ill-afford to take this Thanksgiving holiday off, especially considering Tuesday’s events. As the world’s leading super power and a key member of NATO, the United States needs to ensure that every next step is the correct one. The president must lead and he must do it today. As the world knows, even a small skirmish between Russia and the NATO alliance will be far more costly than the toll of all the recent terror attacks combined.

ISIS, it has been claimed, has every intention of ending the world as we know it in some apocalyptic scenario. Lest we inch closer to making that twisted fantasy a reality, steps must be taken to reduce the tensions with Russia and they must be taken before it becomes too late.