Either (a) someone majorly screwed up or (b) the shootdown of MH-17 was a false flag op designed to stoke backlash against Russia and, more specifically, President Vladimir Putin.
While I would give either of the scenarios a 50/50 chance, for the sake of this discussion I am going to operate on the premise that (a) is correct: that this was a catastrophic screw-up, that pro-Russian separatists shot down MH-17 using an SA-11 missile battery. Functionally-speaking, we won’t entertain the false-flag op for now.
Many conservatives have used the occasion to lash out at President Obama, contrasting his lack of moral clarity to that of President Reagan in the wake of the Soviet shootdown of KAL Flight 007 in 1983. While that contrast is a great illustration of two fundamentally-different leadership styles, there are some complicating matters that Obama faces today that the Gipper did not face in 1983:
(a) It’s not like we have never accidentally shot down an airliner mistaking it for a combat craft. Google “USS Vincennes” if you don’t believe me.
290 Iranian civilians died when the USS Vincennes shot down an airliner over the Gulf of Aqaba. And guess who was President at the time? As much as I hate to say it–as he was an otherwise excellent President–that was on the Gipper’s watch.
(b) It’s not like we’ve never given dangerous weapons to parties–who were allies at the time–only to have those weapons used against innocents (and even our own troops) at a later date.
(c) It’s not like we’ve never taken sides in a localized civil war–or even started one–in a country within our region.
Putin is guilty, but of what? Doing things that we have also done over the years.
He is exerting the degree of influence in his region that we have historically exerted in our region. Don’t believe me? This goes back over 100 years, and it’s no respecter of political parties. Putin is doing nothing that Roosevelt and Wilson and Bush and Obama and even the Gipper haven’t done.
Spanish-American War anyone?
How about Iran-Contra?
How about El Salvador?
How about Afghanistan?
Don’t forget Libya.
Yes, Putin needs to exercise better control over the weaponry that he delivers to his allies. One can reasonably argue that his aggression in that region is unwarranted. The same can be argued for no small numbers of aggressions on our end.
Ultimately, not only have American Presidents been guilty of the same transgressions as Putin, Obama is himself in a pickle, as there is a mother lode of carnage–from Mexico to Africa to the Middle East and I would even argue Ukraine–that is directly on his hands.
This makes moral clarity somewhat difficult.