The Obama Administration no doubt would contend that the President is fully in touch with his national security team and capable of dealing with these crises whether he’s in the Oval Office or wearing a tux at some glittering event. Maybe . . . although the combination of world events and the mess at our border raise legitimate questions about whether the President is fully in control of events. In any case, I think Senator Feinstein has put her finger on something significant.
Appearances and messaging are important in today’s world. It’s hard to successfully characterize something as a crisis if you can’t be bothered to change your schedule and skip non-essential events in order to work the phones with international leaders and build working coalitions to deal with the problem. When the President goes to fundraisers in the midst of these events, he’s implicitly communicating that he is more concerned about Republicans than he is about the Middle East, or the Ukrainian separatist activities, or the influx of unaccompanied minor illegal immigrants.
Senator Feinstein recognizes that — and, I suspect, so do the perpetrators of the events that have given rise to these crises in the first place. I think it’s time for the President to skip a few fundraisers.
I will say this, however — if it is determined that pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists did shoot down the plane with a missile, it is one of the worst, most unforgivable crimes imaginable. Hundreds of people from a number of different nations boarded this particular jet in Amsterdam, headed to Kuala Lumpur. They didn’t know that boarding an international flight that was just like countless others would be their doom. The jet flew through peaceful airspace, where there had been no warning of any danger. The people on the plane were absolutely defenseless against an attack. Anyone who would shoot down a plane under those circumstances — even if it was a case of mistaken identity — simply does not deserve to live in the modern, civilized world.
If a missile attack in fact occurred, whoever was responsible for this outrage must be punished, and the punishment should come from every nation that had citizens aboard that jet. If Ukrainian separatists were the culprits, then the United States should side with the Ukrainian government and do whatever it can to defeat the separatists, learn who perpetrated this act, bring them to justice, and see that they are appropriately punished. If Russia wants to be accepted as a responsible figure on the international scene, it should do likewise — and so should every other country that has an international airport.
I’m tired of mealy-mouthed responses to criminal, terrorist acts that demand swift and sure action. If commercial jets can be shot from the skies without fear of prompt and painful retribution, then the world has become a grimmer, darker place. We simply cannot permit such acts to go unpunished. Let’s get the facts, get them quickly, and then take meaningful steps against whoever perpetrated this awful crime.
I hope that we don’ return to the unsettling Cold War world, with its doomsday clocks and periodic crises that could blow up into catastrophic confrontation. I hope we also aren’t so smug, however, that we confidently conclude that it just can’t happen. Such conclusions are wishful thinking. There are lots of people out there with lots of territorial ambitions who are willing to run stupid risks to try to achieve them, and we need to recognize that reality and deal with it.
The unfolding developments in the Ukraine, however, also give rise to a deeper, yet equally significant concern arising from the fact that the Russian military actions apparently caught the United States, and the western world, completely by surprise. People in the foreign policy world had confidently predicted that Vladimir Putin, flush from the favorable PR about the Sochi Olympic Games, wouldn’t risk the goodwill of the world by taking any kind of military action in the Ukraine, or lacked the will or resources or interest to do so. Of course, those people were wrong.
Is our failure to predict the Russian actions in the Ukraine due to poor intelligence, or of a cocoon-like atmosphere in our foreign policy establishment that doesn’t recognize that other countries and leaders might not see the world as we do? This article in The American Interest argues that it is the latter — and that the cocoon, unless and until punctured, is going to produce more foreign policy crises and setbacks in the future.
I don’t know if the hypothesis of the article is correct or not — but I do think that, when it comes to contingency planning about responses to fast-moving global events, it’s essential to have different viewpoints represented and presented to President Obama. If our current foreign policy apparatus doesn’t include the contrarians who are willing to offer their competing views and the decision-makers who will consider those views, we need to make some changes, pronto. Presidents can only make good decisions if they are given full information and a range of options.