Some 298 people are dead in what has to be considered — at least until contradicted by clear evidence of deliberate intent — a terrible accident of war in the downing Thursday of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 flight between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur in the disputed part of Eastern Ukraine.
It isn’t the first time in recent history that a civilian airliner has been shot down — as this one appears to have been — by military forces in a war zone. The United States naval vessel, the USS Vincennes, attacked and destroyed an Iranian civilian aircraft in the Persian Gulf in 1988 during the Iran-Iraq war, killing 290.
This tragedy isn’t hard to explain. Eastern Ukraine is a war zone, and it is tantamount to a lack of wisdom for civilian airlines and pilots to fly over it. It is also no secret that at least three parties, the Ukrainian and Russian governments and the Russian-supported Ukrainian rebels, have sophisticated weapons, including surface-to-air missile systems, capable of bringing down a flight like MH17. It is also clear that forces on the ground in Eastern Ukraine are not strong on command and control, which is to say, responsible leadership to say, “Don’t fire until you know what you are shooting at.”
On Friday, President Barack Obama suggested that the separatists supported by Russia were to blame for the downing of the jet, which had one American aboard. But what is needed now is a sober, thorough, all-party, international investigation of what happened, to target blame if possible and, in the process, try to see to it that it doesn’t occur again. U.S. intelligence, especially intercepts, regarding what transpired on Thursday should be made freely available to the investigators.
Listening, so far, to the various parties involved, it is not entirely clear that they all will cooperate in the nonpoliticized investigation of the tragedy that is absolutely required at this point. The world public finds the Ukrainian, Russian and separatist “blame game” efforts tiresome to say the least and inhuman at worst, particularly to the ears of the families of the victims, not to mention air travelers.