Uncomfortable questions about Malaysian Flight 17


WASHINGTON, July 19, 2014 — The destruction of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 this past Thursday was a terrible tragedy, an event that cruelly snuffed out the lives of 298 people from over a dozen countries.

To watch Fox News and most of the American media, one would think that Vladimir Putin personally slipped across the Russian-Ukrainian border this past Thursday and single-handedly fired the surface-to-air BUK missile that brought down flight 17. Judge Andrew Napolitano and the irrepressible Charles Krauthammer were quick, based on sketchy and preliminary information, to lay full blame on the shoulders of the Russian president and demand heightened confrontation.

“No doubt it was Putin’s missiles and his heavy support for the Ukrainian rebels that were responsible,” intoned Krauthammer. And in Congress, Senator John McCain — not known for his affection for the Russian leader — went further, insisting that “Russia must suffer severe consequences.”

President Obama, in his Friday news conference, picked up the lead, indicating that the passenger jet was very likely downed by a missile fired from “rebel-occupied territory in eastern Ukraine,” and, again, implied that Russia might have indirect responsibility for what occurred.

The problem in this scenario is that it is mostly, at this moment in the investigation, still speculative. Until an analysis of the crash site and the black flight boxes is completed, and other information, including accurate transcripts of communications between rebel groups and between the Ukrainian regime and its regional army and militia units, is made available, the kind of heated and over-the-top rhetoric used by McCain and Krauthammer only inflames an already tragic situation.

Most of the American media have omitted reporting certain other facts surrounding this tragedy. Why, for example, did the Ukrainian government air-traffic controllers direct flight 17 to fly 10,000 feet lower than its normal flight altitude? Why did the Ukrainians direct the Malaysian plane to deviate from its normal flight path and send it through the middle of one of the most violent and dangerous areas in Europe? (This information has been reported by the Malaysian government.)

If, indeed, it was a BUK missile that brought the plane down, who had such missiles and the capacity to use them? We know that the Ukrainian government has such weapons, but it is unconfirmed as to whether the Ukrainian Russian resistance has such weapons or even the technical capacity to operate them.

It is true that in recent weeks ethnic Russian rebels have brought down several Ukrainian military planes over eastern Ukraine. Those military planes were flying at a lower altitude than flight 17 would normally have flown. Why did the Ukrainians direct the Malaysian passenger flight to fly at a lower altitude?

The Russian government has demanded that the government in Kiev release all its communications with army and air units in the area, and it has promised to do the same. That must happen to insure a proper investigation.

At the moment, the scenario that appears most likely is that flight 17 was brought down by the insurgents by mistake. But, let us just suppose that there is more to this situation than initially meets the eye. There is a fundamental question here that hasn’t yet been asked: if this plane was shot down on purpose, to whose benefit would it have been? Who gains from such a truly international tragic event?

Certainly not the ethnic Russian insurgents fighting for their rights in eastern Ukraine, and certainly not the Russians, who are painted by the Western press as pulling the strings of the rebels.

Indeed, this terrible event is, ironically, a godsend for neoconservative hawks who would like nothing more than step up confrontation with President Putin and Russia, and they are already using it for all its worth. Such questions, as incredible as they may seem initially, should be addressed.

Manipulation of human tragedy is always despicable. But as we condemn the brutality and cruelty associated with the downing of Malaysian flight 17, we should not forget the immense human suffering now occurring on the ground in Ukraine. The Ukrainian army, according to official UN sources, has killed in recent days close to 300 ethnic Russian civilians in and around Lugansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, and has forced thousands to flee for safety, but the American media remains silent.

While we should condemn supplying lethal weapons to insurgent forces, perhaps we should also consider how many sophisticated and advanced weapons and weapons system, made in the USA, have fallen into the hands of ISIS, or the Afghan Taliban, of Libyan al-Quaeda affiliates? The world is littered with weaponry either provided by the American government or expropriated by terrorist groups after American troops have evacuated a territory.

Right now, it is time to let the world grieve for the dead, but it is also time to stand back, and carefully evaluate all the evidence and address all the questions, calmly and without politicization.

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Boyd Cathey
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.
  • JWPicht

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you, but you aren’t suggesting that neoconservative hawks shot down the plane, or arranged for it to be shot down?

    No one in the region stands to benefit from shooting down that plane if we know they did it. Everyone stands to benefit from shooting down that plane if we believe the other side did it.

    We should also note that the SA-11 and Buk SAMs have an operational ceiling of 70,000 feet, and the 33,000-foot altitude of MH17 was well above the reach of weapons the rebels used to bring down the Ukrainian transports. If it was brought down with an SA-11, a reduction in cruising altitude to 33,000 feet hardly seems relevant.

    Also, while the service ceiling of a 777 is 43,000 feet, I’ve flown a lot of times on that plane, and the flight information they show on the seat display usually shows us cruising in the 33-36,000 foot range. That doesn’t prove anything, since I believe they adjust the altitude for the most favorable winds, but I don’t think I’ve ever been in a 777 (or 767 or 757) cruising above 40,000 feet, and it would surprise me if an airline typically flew that plane at its service ceiling. But I’m not an airline expert, so I admit that this is rank speculation on my part.