What Pres. Obama should--but alas, won't--do....
1. One option: send military aid to Kiev. The new president has so effectively rallied Ukraine's hitherto hapless military that even without any decent equipment it has fought the separatists to a standstill. Better weaponry would enable creeping retake of much of eastern Ukraine.
2. A second option would be strong economic sanctions, rather than the weak ones now afoot. But Obama, I think, lacks political capital in Europe to get France, Germany & Italy to go along despite energy dependency that Europe foolishly accepted for cheaper electricity.
3. A third option--now overtaken by events--is that within hours of the shootdown, upon verification that a Russian SAM (not operable without Russian help) had downed the airliner, the US & NATO should have had Kiev invite a militarily escorted international crash team into eastern Ukraine. Legally all of Ukraine--including Crimea--is under Kiev's jurisdiction. We should have publicly warned the separatists not to interfere, and privately warned Moscow not to do so. Moscow would not likely have taken the risk associated with a vigorous globally-supported response to mass murder, especially as the shootdown was a mistake that Moscow could have diplomatically disavowed. Meekly honoring, even for a day or two, separatist interference impliedly diminishes the sovereignty of Kiev. While an argument can be made that further investigation is superfluous--we already know what happened--the symbolic value of reasserting Kiev's sovereignty over eastern Ukraine should not be underestimated.
4. A fourth set of options would be to take steps outside of Ukraine. First, send a meaningful deployment of troops to the Baltic states--at least, to the two (Estonia & Latvia) who border Russia. Better still to send more troops as well to Poland & Czech and revive all missile defense options. Second, approve Keystone XL pipeline w. Canada and accelerate domestic "fracking" of natural gas--which has (thanks to permits issued under Bush 43) already added domestic capacity equal to 3mil. bbl/day (matches Iraq's total daily oil output). This should be coupled with a commitment to Europe to give that area primacy as US production capacity increases, and also by selling that portion of Europe dependent upon Moscow oil from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, to help in extreme winter/summer conditions. Third, adopt Sarah Palin's "drill baby drill" policy re offshore oil. Fourth, reverse decline in US defense spending (which might get Europe to do a little more too, something that won't happen if we cut back).
London mayor Boris Johnson compares America's forthright 1988 response to our accidental downing of an Iranian airliner to Vladimir Putin's duplicity re MH17. The NRO editors call for the West to impose sanctions on Moscow, to deter future Russian aggression:
The shooting down of a civilian Malaysian airliner by “pro-Russian separatists” in eastern Ukraine, with the loss of 298 lives, is both a catalyst and a turning point. Whether the turn is toward a more brutal war in Ukraine and a protracted cold war between Russia and the West or toward second thoughts by Moscow and a diplomatic de-escalation of the crisis, however, will depend on what the West now does.
The NRO editors note that Hillary's effort to put the onus on Europe to act is "a transparent attempt to avoid blame for the failure of her “reset” policy toward Russia (and to stay on good terms with the Obama administration in case it is tempted to cast that blame on her.)" They further note that only Britain signed the 1994 Budapest Memorandum committing signatories to guarantee Ukraine's sovereignty in exchange for Kiev surrendering its nuclear arsenal.
A group of former senior officials call for a global task force to help Ukraine attain freedom & prosperity. Adam Garfinkle, always worth reading, is more optimistic, suggesting that the West at most ratchet up sanctions against a Russia he views as a weak state posing little threat.
Anne Applebaum sees the shootdown exposing Russia's real war for Ukraine:
If it has done nothing else, the crash of Flight 17 has just put an end to the “it’s not a real war” fairy tale, both for the Russians and for the West. Tragically, this unconventional non-war war just killed 298 people, mostly Europeans. We can’t pretend it isn’t happening any longer or that it doesn’t affect anyone outside of Donetsk. The Russians can’t pretend either.
Without the fairy-tale pretense, some things are about to become clear. For one, we are about to learn whether the West in 2014 is as united and as determined to stop terrorism as it was 26 years ago. When the Libyan government brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, the West closed ranks and isolated the Libyan regime. Can we do the same now — or will too many be tempted to describe this as a “tragic accident” and to dismiss what will inevitably be a controversial investigation as “inconclusive”? It is insufficient to state, as President Obama now has, that there must be a “cease-fire” in Ukraine. What is needed is a withdrawal of Russian mercenaries, weapons and support. The West — and the world — must push for Ukrainian state sovereignty to be re-established in eastern Ukraine, not for the perpetuation of another frozen conflict.
If the West fails to respond properly, she warns (correctly) that Putin will invade elsewhere. His record since assuming office in 2000 has been one of virtually unceasing aggression, at home & abroad. Tony Shaffer (a colleague of mine at the London Center for Policy Research) sees Russian supply of the SA-11 telegraphing Putin's intent to reclaim eastern Europe.
Other than tepid economic sanctions nothing of the above will come to pass so long as Obama is president. This will increase the chance that Putin will do a Sudetenland sojourn in the two bordering Baltics before Obama leaves office.
Some Russian lawmakers want Moscow to pull out of the New START Treaty. That was a badly-flawed agreement, which necessitated America making strategic force cuts while Moscow, already below treaty limits due to economic constraints, is allowed to add more to its strategic nuclear arsenal, which it is doing with alacrity. We should pray this comes to pass.
Bottom Line. Once again Team Obama misses a huge strategic opportunity, to put Moscow on the defensive. Instead it pursues mindlessly its demonstrably failed "reset" fantasy policy.
Letter from the Capitol, LFTC Foreign Policy, National Security, Economy, Conservative Politics