The downing of Malaysia Flight 17 casts new light on just how inept and decadent the United States and Europe have become.
Faced with Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and attempts to repeat in eastern Ukraine, the best Western Europe and the United States have mustered are strong words and token sanctions on top Russian officials and several companies. That’s hardly enough to deter Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to make Russia the dominant power in Eurasia.
Now, public outrage at the downing of the Malaysian airliner will force Western governments to offer Russia restraint from imposing truly-effective sanctions on its subversive activities in the Ukraine in exchange for an international investigation.
That likely will yield little more than already inferred. Russia supplied the missiles and is culpable for enabling separatists who shot down the plane.
Not much else will happen.
Six months from now Russian agents will still be operating in the Ukraine and planning similar uprisings in other former Soviet states.
The United States lacks sufficient military assets in Europe to deter Russian aggression, and Europe’s most powerful state, Germany, lacks the will to stand up to Russia. President Obama has been too successful at paying for entitlements by cutting the defense budget, and German businesses are profiting too much from commerce with Russia.
Obama naïvely misjudged Putin. There is no reset button for relations with a regime led by a criminal. Putin has plundered businesses, crushed dissent and killed journalists. To believe he can be persuaded through diplomacy or imposing minor economic costs is a fool’s journey.
Putin knows if he unwinds his plans slowly and occasionally appears to engage in meaningful discussions and cooperation, he can dupe Obama and Germany’s Angela Merkel and co-opt their political constituencies. The latter have already rationalized Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and will do the same if he slices off more of the Ukraine.
The U.S. and European economies have grown so slowly in recent decades that their governments cannot afford both the militaries needed to deter Russian aggression and to maintain their welfare states. And voters have been so lulled into complacency with high-minded talk about international law and diplomacy that they believe they can turn their eyes away from Russian state terrorism without peril to their own security, much in the manner of Munich and Neville Chamberlain.