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Obama Needs Larger Goal Than Securing Ukraine Crash Site

Author: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies
July 21, 2014
Wall Street Journal

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President Barack Obama has gotten the message that, with international crises swirling around him, he's got to look like an engagť commander-in-chief. (Daily on-camera statements about foreign policy: when was the last time he did that?) In showing leadership on Ukraine, however, the president may be focusing on the wrong issue—on getting an honest investigation of the Malaysian Airlines crash rather than on the broader question of Russia's ongoing attempt to dismember a neighboring state.
Consider how international uproars unfold after a civilian airliner is shot down. There's shock and anger, of course, followed by demands that the perpetrators be brought to justice, followed by a lot of confusion about who actually meant to do what, and eventually by a spreading awareness that the people pulling the trigger thought they were aiming at a military target.
That's what happened when the Soviets shot down KAL 007 in 1983; when U.S. forces shot down an Iranian plane in 1988; when Ukraine shot down a Russian airliner in 2001 (and even when Israel downed a Libyan plane back in 1973). In time there's usually a grudging apology by the guilty party, often some sort of compensation to the victims' families, and then an international shrugging of shoulders. Defense establishments make mistakes.
Even measured against the very low bar that these previous cases establish, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his associates have been incredibly ham-handed in dealing with the uproar over MH17. Gradually they're being pushed to cooperate with experts and investigators. It's hard to imagine that they won't be pushed further. Europeans are really mad.

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