By Brigitte L. Nacos
Last week’s downing of a Malaysian civilian airliner over the Ukrainian region controlled by separatists with close ties to Russia was an unspeakable tragedy for the 298 persons aboard and their families and friends in a multitude of countries, most of all in Holland.
The U.S. and other Western governments as well as Ukrainian officials in Kiev charge that the plane was brought down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile launched by Ukrainian separatists--with or without support by Russian troops. Separatists and Moscow claim that the missile was fired by the Ukrainian military and that there is no evidence of wrongdoing on their part.
There seems to be agreement though that whoever launched the ill-fated missile, most likely separatist fighters, did not intent to take down a civilian airliner but had mistaken it for a military plane.
Criticism and outrage are justified concerning the despicable behavior of separatists who delayed foreign access to the crash site allowing looting and destruction of evidence; the same is true for President Putin who did not immediately use his influence over the Ukrainian insurgents.
But what brought down the Malaysian airliner and killed close to 300 lives was not murder and not terrorism as some critics of Vladimir Putin, especially in Kiev, continue to charge.
Just as it was not murder or terrorism, when on July 3, 1988 a guided missile launched by the U.S. Navy’s USS Vincennes took down an Iranian civilian airliner over the Strait of Hormuz killing all 290 persons on board. Investigators concluded later that crewmembers on the Vincennes had mistaken the Iran Air plane on its way from Tehran to Dubai for a hostile fighter jet, relayed the information to skipper William Rogers who ordered the missile strike.
At the time, the bloody war between Iran and Iraq was in its last phase. U.S. Navy ships protected and escorted oil tankers and other ships in the Persian Gulf and frequently were involved in hostilities with Iranian ships.
Shortly after the incident, President Ronald Reagan noted in a statement read by his press secretary, “I am saddened to report that it appears that in a proper defensive action by the U.S.S. Vincennes this morning in the Persian Gulf, an Iranian airliner was shot down over the Strait of Hormuz.”
Proper defensive action? The Vincennes crew thought so.
It was a horrific accident, a terrible mistake. Just like the downing of the Malaysian airliner.