There are so many layers to the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 tragedy that it’s nearly impossible to know what will happen next. As with any major tragedy, especially the bellicose ones, history has taught us that there are two distinct paths that can be taken in the wake of these sorts of events.
Beyond ascertaining the circumstances surrounding the shooting-down of the passenger jet; beyond comforting the grieving families and mourning those who were lost, it is absolutely critical that the voices who will inevitably call for immediate and unilateral U.S. military action in Ukraine need to be strategically and unflinchingly marginalized. I mean, mercilessly. Of course, congressional leaders like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and television screechers like Bill O’Reilly, each of whom demanded action today, do a pretty fine job of marginalizing themselves, but that’s not enough — not this time. They should be verbally beaten down like anyone who revels in irrational, kneejerk behavior in the face of an international tragedy.
If this truly turns out to be connected with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the United States or any of the nations that lost people in the skies over Donetsk on Thursday won’t need to fire a single shot. Indeed, the world and perhaps many of Putin’s own citizens will line up in solidarity against his despotism. In fact, the worst possible U.S. response would be to engage Putin militarily in Ukraine. A considerable chunk of that solidarity and, more importantly, the moral high ground would be wiped away.
That’s not to say there will never again be a valid reason for U.S. forces to intervene overseas. But in Ukraine with a proxy war against Putin, the conflict would quickly be seen as another go-it-alone American military excursion, diminishing the affair into a contest between the U.S. and Russia, rather than the entire world against Russia. Unilateral action would absolutely decimate what might otherwise be accomplished through building upon what’s quickly becoming a universal accord against Russia’s aggression against civilians.
Rewind back to the year following 9/11. The U.S. could’ve accomplished massive, world-improving goals had it parlayed the outpouring of sympathy and unity from nearly every corner of the globe. Instead of capitalizing on that rare window of global fraternity, the Bush administration instead squandered it with a frivolous, ill-conceived invasion of Iraq, fueled by misplaced triumphalism and blind hubris. From the rumble at Ground Zero, a new era of worldwide unity was within our grasp, but the opportunity was squandered, giving way to shame, embarrassment and more bloodshed.
A similar choice confronts us today. Which path should we pursue and where will it lead us?