Two-hundred ninety-eight people lie dead across a countryside after a commercial airliner was shot down with a weapon of war – and two days later, there is no order or dispatch in the response of authorities to this awful event.
Why? Because the territory where the civilian victims lie, mangled and beginning to rot, is “disputed.” Because no one will use national power to enforce orderly but unhindered access to the crash site. Russia could, but she doesn’t – and if you didn’t know to expect that, you do now. The U.S. could, but under Obama, we don’t use our power for good either.
There is no orderly, centralized response because Russia and the pro-Russian separatists who occupy the territory can get away with stonewalling the interested parties: the Ukrainian national government, which in the eyes of the UN is still the state with legitimate governance over the territory in question; Malaysia and the Malaysian airline company; the Netherlands, the UK, and the United States – among others – whose nationals were passengers on the flight; the U.S. and the Boeing company, the latter of which built the aircraft, and has all the particulars of its airframe and avionics with which to do a forensic investigation.
Hundreds of the passengers’ family members and friends suffer, not knowing what is happening with their loved ones’ remains. Onlookers from afar all but gag with nausea at the reports coming out of the crash site:
[T]wo days after the disaster, there has been little progress, with the site disorderly and investigations hampered by its location in separatist-held territory amid heavy fighting in other parts of the east.
Malaysia’s transport minister Lio Tiang Lai expressed deep concern about the security of the site and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was “disgusted” by images showing rebels walking around with victims’ personal items. …
Ukrainian emergency personnel were allowed onto the site by the armed separatists and found 186 bodies over an area of 25 square kilometers (10 square miles), but had limited access and the rebels were confiscating evidence, a government spokesman said. …
“There are federal emergency service workers at the scene…. But they have no freedom of movement. They are not allowed to leave the zone [under the control of the separatists]. The terrorists are taking all evidence that they gather,” Andriy Lysenko, the spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council said. He didn’t specify whether rebels were taking bodies, aircraft parts or other items.
During the day on Saturday, however, there was no visible looting at the site, and many of the victims’ items remained strewed about the rural field where the bulk of the debris landed. …
Men in plain clothes assisted the uniformed regional uniformed officers from the regional division of the national emergency service—which has tried to stay neutral—in gathering the decomposing bodies. But the scene was chaotic with no apparent overarching management. …
One TV journalist walked across the field and filmed himself two feet from what looked like part of the plane’s rear. At one point, a separatist fired into the air. Another rebel pulled his gun on a journalist after becoming agitated. …
The Ukrainian government has no accurate information about the whereabouts of the flight data recorders, Mr. Lysenko said. Mr. Borodai [head of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”] denied earlier reports that the rebels had found them, but said if his people did they would be ready to hand them over to the experts.
At the scene, Alexei Migrin, head of emergency services for the Donetsk region, described his service’s task as identifying and collecting bodies. Other people were responsible for the security and investigation, and there isn’t any set protocol of coordination among the groups, he said.
“They carry out their duties, the investigation—I don’t know what they do—and we carry out ours,” he said. He said there was no general manager of the whole site. “We work on our own matters. I don’t need a manager. We are doing what we can.”
The deadly certainty settles over our minds that there will be no redress for this attack on a civilian airliner; no form of “justice”; not even a credible warning, or something to at least set a precedent or act as a deterrent, however otherwise attenuated or morally inadequate. There is no mechanism now, without American power, to make such a thing happen.
Those who have power in this situation don’t care what happened to the people on flight MH17 – and they don’t care about general principles of international security and accountability. Those who do care don’t have power.
So the bodies of the innocent and uninvolved rot, in fields roamed by armed men whose “nationality” and authority aren’t even recognized by most of the people on the planet. Their power comes from the end of a gun, but with their power there is none of the moral discipline or accountability that arise from the conventions of national obligation. The scene is barbaric, out of a distant past.
This, in microcosm, is what the world looks like without American leadership: armed brigands wandering among the bodies of the dead. A floor has fallen out from under our network of international conventions and expectations. The rest of the world isn’t organized to show goodwill on principle, or to treat the remains of someone else’s dead respectfully, or look into what killed them with zeal and honesty – when there’s no one there to set and enforce an example.
Beyond organization, much of the world isn’t committed to doing this. What will a body like the UN even mean in this kind of world? The veneer of internationalism has been ripped off with the downing of MH17 – as has, indeed, the veneer of a shared civilization.