President Obama Goes Soft in MH17 Speech

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President Obama addressed the world earlier today about the continuing crisis in Ukraine. In his speech, he called on Russia to force the pro-Russian separatists to cooperate with the investigation into the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. He didn't say much else.

First, handling some house business, he said that Secretary of State John Kerry was on his way to Cairo to help broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Just a day before, Kerry had been caught on an open mic expressing his frustration with the mounting death tolls in Gaza.

The president echoed Kerry, asserting Israel's right to defense while expressing serious concern about the death of innocent civilians in the conflict, particularly in Gaza. He called for an immediate ceasefire using the parameters of the 2012 Egypt-brokered ceasefire.

Obama then moved on the main event, addressing the downing of MH17. In it, he expressed his condolences about the deaths of the 298 passengers, saying "our hearts have been absolutely broken." 

He then turned to the matter of Russia, which Obama blamed for training and arming the pro-Russian separatists, including with the anti-aircraft weaponry that is widely believed to have been used in the attack. He called on the pro-Russian separatists to allow investigators to find out what happened and not tamper with evidence, adding that Putin "has direct responsibility to compel" the separatists to cooperate. 

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That was it. 

His speech was preceded by a fiery speech by British Prime Minister David Cameron in which he said that, with Russia's involvement in the Ukrainian crisis in mind, no European Union country should sell military equipment to Russia. Cameron added:

The president made no such threats of sanctions and said little that would speak to a broader American obligation. Despite the outrage, especially among leaders of other countries involved, Obama's casual imploring may be directly related to the fact that Americans have little appetite for further U.S. involvement in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

In speaking of international norms and declaring that Russian actions could isolate it further from the international community, the president implicitly absolved himself (and the United States) of a direct confrontation. This falls in line with much of the president's approach to foreign policy, which has been criticized as detached and trumpeted as thoughtful.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.