The downing of a passenger jet over the Ukraine may have been an accident, or it may have been deliberate, but either way, the Obama administration's response has been pathetic.
The fact of the matter is that in dealing with Russia, we don't have many options. Ground troops are out of the question and air support will only provoke a wider conflict. This may come as a disappointment to my neocon readers, but sometimes we have a weak hand and everyone knows it.
When that happens, it is imperative not to bluff - especially when it is a certainty that you will be called on it.
I actually watched the news conference this morning and after hearing the each of the president's conditions, I could not help but saying aloud: "or what?"
The US wants a cease fire. Or what?
The US wants access to the crash site. Or what?
The US demands a full investigation. Or what?
That's pretty much what every country in the world is now thinking.
We tell Iran to give up its drive to nuclear weapons. Or what?
China should abandon its provocative claims of territory in the South China Sea. Or what?
There's a passage in Lord of the Rings where Gandalf is recounting his imprisonment by Saruman. After Saruman declares the terms of Gandalf's sentence, Gandalf attempts a snappy comeback. Saruman doesn't buy it:
"He laughed at me, for my words were empty, and he knew it."*
All around the world they are laughing at Obama, because his words are also empty, and everyone knows it.
The smart play for the Russians would be to have the rebels admit a terrible mistake and claim that the aircraft looked on the insurgent radar like an incoming high-altitude bomber.
This might even be true - I doubt air defense batteries check for civil transponder codes (why would they?). The radar likely locked on a target within a given range and the order to fire was given. Oops.
None of this is to trivilialize the very real horror of the incident, or to minimize the death of innocent passengers. Their deaths were unnecessary and horrific, but they were also not "tragic" or "senseless."
Tragedy generally implies something sad that could not be helped. Obviously this was not an earthquake. Absent an SA-series missile battery, the aircraft would have landed safely.
Similarly, the loss of the aircraft was not "senseless." There was a very clear intellect behind what is happening in the Ukraine, and to declare the resulting violence "senseless" speaks volumes about the lack of imagination of our leadership, but little about the Russians or their proxies.
Americans notoriously are incapable of understanding a foreign point of view and modern liberals are even worse. Not all peoples are peace-loving or regard war as a bad thing. There is a a war party in Russia right now - not suicidal, but clearly people who think that some minor bloodshed on the frontiers would be a good thing. War is a part of the human experience and the times of peace we have known in my lifetime are the exception in history, not the rule. As I said earlier, we may be reverting back to the way things have been since Adam took the fruit.
Ironically, it is by making weak statements that potential adversaries assume will not be backed up that we are most likely to get the major conflict we don't want.
The crawling chaos just came a bit closer.
*I refer of course to the book. In the movie version, Peter Jackson predictably (and stupidly) opts to have a Harry Potter-style fight scene which Gandalf loses. This the fatal flaw of all of Jackson's film adaptations: Instead of remaining true to the source material, he can always be relied on to add a useless action sequence that often undermines the point of the scene or even the integrity of the plot as a whole (i.e. Elves at Helm's Deep, Scrubbing Bubbles of Death at Minas Tirith, etc.).