On Tuesday morning, the news from Ukraine was that the Train of Death was finally moving.
Boxcars full of rotting, mangled corpses — some of the almost 300 tourists, students, researchers and other innocent civilians — slowly tolled away from a massive rebel-held crash zone towards a base in eastern Ukraine.
After five days of wrangling over limited access to the site, authorities are trying to piece together what happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17.
Actually, it’s already clear what happened. A Russia-supplied Buk missile system brought the plane down. It was fired by pro-Russian rebels, who had already downed a couple of Ukrainian warplanes in the days previous. In fact, it was more likely operated by Russian military personnel, since the Buk is not the sort of gadget a garden variety rebel would know how to fire.
If there was any doubt about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reckless thirst for power and influence before last Thursday, there can be little doubt now.
Even today, with blood of innocents on his hands, he refuses to acknowledge Russia’s culpability in this tragedy.
Putin may be popular at home, but in the west he’s viewed as a self-obsessed grandstander and thug.
Unless, of course, you’re a U.S. Republican.
Little can match the hypocrisy of the recent right-wing love affair with Putin that arose during the Syrian chemical weapons crisis a year ago August.
As the U.S. threatened punitive air strikes against the Syrian regime, Putin stepped in with an alternative: let’s just take the weapons away from them. He brokered a deal that saw the last remaining weapons put aboard a U.S. ship earlier this month.
This, we’re told, made Putin a better leader than his counterpart, Barack Obama.
A commentary on PoliticusUSA.com put it this way: “There is some division among Republicans who cannot quite decide if they want to fight Vladimir Putin or fornicate with (him), but one thing is clear; conservatives think he is a ‘real leader’ and lust for a Republican president like Putin.”
Matt Drudge, of the Drudge Report, went so far last August to tweet that “Putin is the leader of the free world.”
Even as recently as this March, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani praised Putin’s leadership qualities on Fox News.
“Putin decides what he wants to do and he does it in half a day. … He makes a decision and he executes it quickly. Then everybody reacts. That’s what you call a leader.”
On the other hand, Giuliani said, “President Obama has gotta think about it, he’s gotta go over it again. He’s gotta talk with more people.”
Some Republicans touted the fact Putin occasionally appears with his shirt off.
“People look at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil,” said Sarah Palin, “and our president wears mom jeans and equivocates.”
How grand that the bare-chested Putin can make his choices so decisively, without getting bogged down in expert consultation or, heaven forbid, parliament.
Of course, when Obama makes decisions outside of Congress, he is slammed as overbearing and undemocratic.
Comedian Jon Stewart summed up the Republican line as follows: “Barack Obama is a weak, mom jeans-wearing dictator king!”
Which would still be funny, were it not for a planeload of humanity blown from the sky during a reckless campaign of separation orchestrated by Russia’s “real leader.”
The drivel that passes for debate in America these days makes you wonder whether the country won’t one day implode into total irrelevance.
If it does, oligarchs like Putin will be fully free to exercise their jackboot diplomacy, unencumbered by the pesky checks and balances of democracy.
Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s
commentary editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.