McCain on MH17: It May Be Time to “Give the Ukrainians the Ability to Defend Themselves”

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 17 2014 4:22 PM

McCain on MH17: It May Be Time to “Give the Ukrainians the Ability to Defend Themselves”

138151221-senator-john-mccain-looks-on-during-day1-of-the-48th
The face of a serious man

Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images

Not long after a Malaysian plan went down over Ukrainian airspace, the natural question arose: What does John McCain think?* What does the Senate's leading foreign policy hawk, a man who has spared no adjectives for Russia this year, think could be happening over there?

Cable news had us covered. On CNN, McCain stressed that he did not know what had happened, but that Russian separatists in Ukraine might have the capability to shoot a plane down. "Separatists were able to shoot down an aircraft at 21,000 feet shows that there were capabilities," he said. "I don't want to leap to any conclusions ... but if it was a missile that took this plane down, then it has to be a sophisticated weapons system. Ukrainians don't have that capability." It might be time, he said, to "give the Ukrainians the ability to defend themselves."

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On MSNBC, McCain was somehow both more careful and more bold. "To leap to conclusions could be very embarrassing and very inappropriate until we have more information," he said. "It has the earmarks—and I'm not concluding—but it has the earmarks of a mistaken conclusion that it was Ukrainian," i.e., that separatists would have made this conclusion.

"There will be incredible repercussions if this is the case," he said. "It has the earmarks of a tragic mistake by someone who has the capability to shoot down an aircraft, and we know at least from the last couple weeks that that could be Russian or separatist Russian capability."

Update: Time's Simon Shuster points out that the plane was downed over territory now controlled by separatists.

Update II: The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin got congressional hawks on the horn, and there's little disagreement with McCain. "The families of those Americans should immediately come forward with lawsuits that lock up a lot of Russian assets here in the U.S. and get recompense," says Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, "so the Russian oligarchs always know that it will hit them in their foreign pocketbooks if they needlessly kill civilians."

More Kirk: "You would worry that separatists that have been paid by Putin pulled the trigger. That gives some culpability against Russia."

Correction, July 18, 2014: This post originally misspelled Ukrainian

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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