The Iranian authorities fired; the Iranian authorities killed. Iran behaved recklessly in many ways, including allowing the airliner to take off into airspace ripped by missiles. Civilians died in consequence.
But the chain of causation did not begin on the night of the shoot-down, or even on the night of December 27, when the Iranians set the latest spasm of U.S.-Iran violence into motion. The chain of causation began when President Trump, at the very beginning of his administration, pushed the two countries toward more intense conflict.=
The Trump administration and its supporters want to focus on direct culpability. Are you saying it’s President Trump’s fault that Iran shot down a civilian aircraft? How dare you! When I pointed to the wider context yesterday, my article was seized upon by Fox News as Exhibit A in the case for pro-Trump self-pity. Focusing on the smaller question of direct culpability allows Trump supporters to pivot from something they hate doing—asking the president to provide rational and truthful explanations of his actions—to something they love doing: complaining and feeling sorry for themselves. But that wider context matters.