On the Tuesday after Kerry's Sunday declarations, mainstream journalists, including for the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, were given a senior-level briefing about the U.S. intelligence information that supposedly pointed the finger of blame at the rebels and Russia. But, again, much of the "evidence" was derived from postings on "social media."
The Los Angeles Times article on the briefing took note of the uncertainties: "U.S. intelligence agencies have so far been unable to determine the nationalities or identities of the crew that launched the missile. U.S. officials said it was possible the SA-11 [the Buk anti-aircraft missile] was launched by a defector from the Ukrainian military who was trained to use similar missile systems."
That reference to a possible "defector" may have been an attempt to reconcile the U.S. government's narrative with the still-unreleased satellite imagery of the missile battery controlled by soldiers appearing to wear Ukrainian uniforms. But I'm now told that U.S. intelligence analysts have largely dismissed the "defector" possibility and are concentrating on the scenario of a willful Ukrainian shoot-down of the plane, albeit possibly not knowing its actual identity.
A Hardened Conventional Wisdom
Nevertheless, even as the mystery of who shot down Flight 17 deepened, the U.S. conventional wisdom blaming Putin and the rebels hardened. The New York Times has reported Russia's culpability in the airline disaster as flat-fact.
On July 29, Obama prefaced his announcement of tougher sanctions against Russia by implicitly blaming Putin for the tragedy, too. Reading a prepared statement, Obama said:
"In the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, and countries around the world, families are still in shock over the sudden and tragic loss of nearly 300 loved ones senselessly killed when their civilian airliner was shot down over territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine. ...
"Since the shoot-down, however, Russia and its proxies in Ukraine have failed to cooperate with the investigation and to take the opportunity to pursue a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Ukraine. These Russian-backed separatists ... have continued to shoot down Ukrainian aircraft in the region. And because of their actions, scores of Ukrainian civilians continue to die needlessly every day." [Emphasis added.]
Though one could argue that Obama was rhetorically tip-toeing around a direct accusation that the rebels and Russia were responsible for the Malaysia Airlines shoot-down, his intent clearly was to leave that impression. In other words, Obama was pandering to the conventional wisdom about Russian guilt and was misleading the American people about what the latest U.S. intelligence may suggest.
It's also grotesquely deceptive to blame the Russians and the rebels for the indiscriminate shelling by government forces that have claimed hundreds of lives in eastern Ukraine. The rebels have been resisting what they regard as an illegitimate coup regime that, with the aid of neo-Nazi militias from western Ukraine, overthrew elected President Yanukovych in February and then moved to marginalize and suppress the ethnic Russian population in the east.
By presenting the conflict in a one-sided way, Obama not only misled Americans about the origins of the Ukraine crisis but, in effect, gave the Kiev regime a green light to slaughter more ethnic Russians. By pointing the finger of blame at Moscow for all the troubles of Ukraine, Obama has created more geopolitical space for Kiev to expand its brutal onslaught that now has included reported use of poorly targeted ballistic missiles against population centers.
Obama's covering for the Kiev regime is even more outrageous if the U.S. intelligence analysts are right to suspect that Ukrainian forces were behind the Flight 17 shoot-down.
And as for who's been responsible for destroying evidence of the Flight 17 shoot-down, an assault by the Ukrainian military on the area where the plane crashed not only delayed access by international investigators but appears to have touched off a fire that consumed plane debris that could have helped identify the reasons for the disaster.
On Saturday, the last paragraph of a New York Times story by Andrew E. Kramer reported that "the fighting ignited a fire in a wheat field that burned over fuselage fragments, including one that was potentially relevant to the crash investigation because it had what appeared to be shrapnel holes." The shrapnel holes have been cited by independent analysts as possible evidence of an attack by Ukrainian jetfighters.
Yet, given how far the U.S. political/media establishment has gone in its Flight 17 judgment pinning the blame on the rebels and Russia even before an official investigation was started, it's not clear how those powerbrokers would respond if the emerging analysis fingering Ukrainian forces turns out to be correct.
The embarrassment to high-level U.S. officials and prominent mainstream U.S. news outlets would be so extreme that it is hard to believe that the reality would ever be acknowledged. Indeed, there surely will be intense pressure on airline investigators and intelligence analysts to endorse the Putin-is-to-blame narrative.