Two days ago, rebel forces in eastern Ukraine shot down an unarmed civilian airliner. Our de facto President barely acknowledged this. He was on his way to yet another fundraiser. Now we know the Russian Federation supplied the weapon the rebels used and even took it back into Russia. Barack Obama has barely answered this, and his answer lacks luster. All this goes to show his worst failing in the office he holds: he lacks leadership.
Before we begin…
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 took off from Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on its way to Kuala Lumpur. It never made it. An SA-11 Buk missile rocketed up from disputed territory in Ukraine, struck the airliner (a Boeing 777), and blew up. Neither crew nor passengers had a chance. 298 people died. Rumors abounded that number included 23 Americans. In fact it includes one American with dual American/Dutch citizenship.
Malaysia Airlines gave the captain of MH 17 a flight plan to fly over the disputed land. That captain followed that plan. Not only that, he radioed in to say he was “uncomfortable” about the route he was flying, but then flew into greater danger. (Primary source: The Daily Mail.) Even if one discounts that report, that captain failed of leadership. The captain’s word is law aboard his aircraft! Airline captains, and their employers, must guard the safety of their planes, their crews, and above all, their passengers. The market, and perhaps the civil law, should hold them accountable when they neglect this. Lawyers have a phrase for it: contributory negligence.
Today a commentator on the Fox News Channel raised another issue. Should all airlines install flak-and-flare systems on all their planes? El Al Israel Airlines does this. Moreover, any other airline who would like to, can buy that system from Israel Aerospace Industries. El Al carries that system because they face a real, credible, ongoing threat to their aircraft wherever they fly.
None of this excuses any warring faction for shooting down a helpless airliner.
The Obama leadership style
How did Obama answer the first reports, after MH 17 went down? “It looks like it may be a terrible tragedy.” Looks like?!? May be?!? By then everyone knew at least 295 people had died. As further reports rolled in, his U.N. Ambassador showed greater gonadal fortitude than did he. He kept taking a cautious and tentative tone. Ambassador Powers bluntly told the U.N., “Russia could end this war today!”
This shocking lack of leadership recalls a too-candid moment Obama had with then-President Dmitri Myedvyedyev of Russia. He said, “After my election, I will have more flexibility.” He then put his hand under Myedvyedyev’s thigh, as if to seal that with a “body swear.”
Every experiment needs at least one control. Happily, we have two controls to indict Obama for lack of leadership.
Internal control: Ronald Reagan
First, we have the way President Ronald W. Reagan answered a similar judgment call. The Soviet Air Force shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007. (Albert R. Broccoli perhaps ought to have sued KAL for assigning that trademarked number to one of their flights, but he never did.) President Reagan was at his ranch near San Diego, California when it happened. He cut his vacation short, flew back to Washington, D.C., and sat in his office and cut into Prime Time within twenty-four hours. (See the video embed.)
And Reagan did not mince words. “Massacre,” he called it. And, “Crime against humanity.” And, “Violat[ion of] every concept of human rights.” “No justification.” “[Threatening] the end of civil aviation as we know it.” He also said:
- This was not the first time,
- Communist-affiliated airlines overflew American airspace all the time, and we did not shoot such planes down,
- The Russians lied about it, and most absurdly of all,
- The Russians said KAL 007 was flying a spy mission.
With regard to that last: the U.S. Air Force did have an RC-135 in the air, briefly. But when KAL 007 went down, that RC-135 had already returned to base an hour earlier. Besides, only the 747 has that trademark upper-deck “hump.” No Soviet pilot could have mistaken a 747 for an RC-135.
Reagan went on to set forth the damning evidence. He then announced the obvious sanctions against Russia: he canceled all landing and booking rights for Aeroflot. Aeroflot service would not return for nearly three years.
That was leadership. And it brought this result: MH 17 is the first airliner flight to be lost to Soviet or Russian or Russian-aided military action since then.
External control: Binyamin Netanyahu
The external control is, of course, the invasion, or reinvasion, of Gaza. The Prime Minister of Israel launched that the same day MH 17 went down. He did so after four in five of his people had missiles blowing up over their heads for ten straight days. And also after a team of saboteurs popped out of a tunnel inside Israel itself. A tunnel that led back to Gaza.
In the last forty-eight hours, Netanyahu has expanded the scope and severity of his response. He has done it in the face of withering second-guessing of every move he makes from diplomats and heads-of-state who should know better.
That also is leadership. Leaders act in the face of danger or threat. They do not let not-so-smart second-guessers tell them when to act, or especially when not to act.
Mr. Netanyahu shows leadership in another way. He is not running around raising funds for the next Knesset election. He is down in The Pit, or at least on the line with it, getting regular updates from his chief of staff, Lead General Benny Gantz, and his advisers and theater commanders.
Examples of leadership and its lack
Two different crises, one of the same type, the other less than four hours removed in time. And in each one, someone shows leadership in dealing with a serious problem. In contrast, what does Obama do? He gallivants around the country, going to fundraisers. He does this for two reasons:
- His Party needs the money badly. (And might not succeed even with it.)
- He loves to parade in front of adoring crowds that his advance men have selected ahead of time.
(Maybe so he can wave his hands and say, “May the odds be ever in your favor!” But I digress.)
Barack Obama will never be on another ballot. (We hope! Maybe he wants to stand for election as President of the Earth in some future plebiscite. How can we know?) But the system and Party that gave us a Barack Obama, remain. Something for every voter to remember.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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