Malaysia Flight 17: The Wreckage of Broken Promises

While the world mourns the devastating loss of nearly 300 lives and the shock of a commercial airline downed by military weapons over Ukraine, we cannot help by ask, “Why?”

Not only why would Russian-backed forces in Ukraine shoot down a civilian plane, but why is Russia grasping for control of Ukraine in the first place?

A generation after the so-called end of the cold war, why are Americans once again afraid of the Russians, demonizing its president as a barbarian who rides horseback shirtless?

As it happens, on the same day Malaysia Flight 17 was downed, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern tried to explain the struggle in Ukraine in an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun.

Absent from U.S. media encomia for recently deceased former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze is any mention of the historic deal he reached with his U.S. counterpart James Baker in 1990 ensuring that the Soviet empire would collapse “with a whimper, not a bang” (Mr. Baker’s words).

Mr. Baker keeps repeating that the Cold War “could not have ended peacefully without Shevardnadze.” But he and others are silent on the quid pro quo. The quid was Moscow’s agreement to swallow the bitter pill of a reunited Germany in NATO; the quo was a U.S. promise not to “leapfrog” NATO over Germany farther East. Washington welched on the deal.

It’s well worth reading the whole article. But the take-away is clear from the lede: 300 civilians died as casualties of a war incited by America breaking its promises for 15 years. Ukraine, as it turns out, is the tipping point in the balance of power that was negotiated to end the cold war. The Russians are playing the same game the US is. Only they know they’ve been cheated.

Does this history in any way justify the horrendous evil of shooting down a civilian plane? By no means. But we who are baffled by extremism would do well to try to understand the source of conflicts that can so easily spill out into our lives. We learned from 9/11 that there are people who will gladly use a tragedy like this to explain why the power grab they most want is necessary.

300 civilian deaths are senseless, yes. But if we’re willing to face the truth about Ameircan foreign policy, they can be explained. This is a time for serious questions.


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