I absolutely don’t mean to imply that American lives are more valuable than Dutch or Malaysian, but as it becomes increasingly clear that a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet was shot down by Russian-armed separatists—essentially, shot down by Russia—I can’t help but imagine the potential absolute catastrophe set in motion had it been an American airliner, and 298 American passengers and crew whose burned and bloody pieces lay scattered across eastern Ukraine.
The US is a democracy and this is an election year, and for a nation that has invaded countries for far less—a nation that has cited the Maine, and the Lusitania, and the Gulf of Tonkin as grounds for war—it is hard to imagine that President Obama could have resisted calls for retaliation. Indeed, to do nothing would virtually assure a Republican landslide in November. I suppose it is possible that Vladimir Putin might act un-Putin-like and accede to a US ultimatum: acknowledge responsibility, pay reparations, turn over those directly responsible, disarm the separatists, and swear to honor existing borders. But barring such a total capitulation, how could we not strike back at Russian-backed separatists just miles from the Russian border? And how could that not risk escalating into a direct conflict between the world’s two nuclear superpowers?
As Josh Marshall astutely explains over at TPM, “This is a f’-up on Putin’s part of almost mind-boggling proportions.” A game changer, yes.
But it could’ve been much, much, worse.