No One Wants Ukraine to Win

February 21, 2024

Tuesday’s The Wall Street Journal has several items worth our attention regarding Ukraine.

Garry Kasparov has an excellent op-ed, “How Russians and the West Failed Navalny,” offering insights on the courage, or lack of it, in Navalny’s countrymen and how both Republicans and Democrats are failing Ukraine, and Putin apologists have a “concrete campaign to promote Mr. Putin’s bloodthirsty dictatorship, to normalize his regime and his war crimes.”

Gerald Baker’s “The Moral Blindness of Putin’s Apologists on the Right” dissects how these so-called conservatives “have embraced the moral equivalence that used to define the self-loathing left-wing elites.”

And Tom Fairless’ headline, “How Ukraine War Boosts U.S. Economy,” makes the case we - U.S.-Ukraine Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network (FOUN) – have been making in other ways and which needs to be understood – certainly by those officials, commentators and duped citizens who keep arguing the United States has sent $100 billion to Ukraine.  (The $100 figure is as wrong and their claim of where it has gone.)

But here, while Congress is in recess and scheduled to return next week to face the critically needed supplemental, I feature William McGurn’s excellent description of the politics lined up against Ukraine and, indeed, against efforts to arm Ukraine so that it can defeat Putin in its own and our critical national security interests.

The Friends of Ukraine Network (FOUN) has been arguing for over two years that the United States does not have a stated strategic goal regarding Putin’s war against Ukraine and the West.

Often, when I direct criticism at both political parties for their respective failures in supporting Ukraine and our vital national security interests, I am, in turn, criticized from both sides for supposedly being biased, etc., against one or the other. Sorry, I am an equal opportunity critic.

However, perhaps Bill McGurn’s talent is that his balanced criticism below might succeed in making the true case that no political party has clean hands in its handling and approach to dealing with Putin’s war crimes and genocide in Ukraine.

No One Wants Ukraine to Win

Trump opposes the aid package, while Biden never calls for an outright victory.


William McGurn

Feb. 19, 2024 6:02 pm ET print edition – February 20

The Journal included a photo of President Zelensky. I avoid using photos from the print media put here, including a Michael Ramirez cartoon.  The cartoon certainly clearly states our opponent’s objective, which reaches far beyond Ukraine.

The dominant narrative today holds that Joe Biden and Donald Trump are opposites on Ukraine. The president supports the Senate bill that includes about $60 billion for Kyiv, mostly in military aid. The former president attacks it, and his influence among House Republicans is why Speaker Mike Johnson is reluctant to bring it to the floor for a vote.

But when it comes to the failure to spell out a strategic argument, the two are one. As a result, the military-aid package has largely been fought over issues unrelated to Ukraine, such as funding for border security. Meanwhile, Democrats sound like hawks, Republicans sound like doves, and U.S. policy slides into strategic incoherence.

Mr. Trump has always been skeptical about what we get for our alliances and treaties, especially the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Although this thinking may not command a majority, it has paralyzed the Republican Party. Before Mr. Trump arrived on the scene, Republicans were criticizing Barack Obama for not delivering the lethal aid that would allow Ukraine to defend itself.

Not that Mr. Trump is uncomfortable with American forces overseas. But he prefers short, one-off interventions, such as the drone strike that killed Iran’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020. Longer-term commitments, especially multilateral ones, he tends to view solely as an expense that ropes us in to fights that aren’t our own.

At a rally in South Carolina this month, the former president explained his position by quoting an unnamed European leader who’d asked: What if Russia attacks my country but we hadn’t met our financial commitments to NATO?

Mr. Trump was categorical: “No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay.”

In fairness, as president Mr. Trump used that kind of pressure to get delinquent NATO members to pay more. And it worked. But it’s still an argument only about costs, and it assumes Vladimir Putin would see it as another Trump exaggeration rather than as a sign of an America too divided to stop him.

That’s the root of Republican incoherence on Ukraine, and it’s getting plenty of attention. But Mr. Biden is incoherent too—no matter how reluctant the press may be to cover it.

Remember how Mr. Biden’s support for Ukraine started: He was backed into it. A month before Russia’s 2022 invasion, Mr. Biden predicted Russia would “move in” to Ukraine, but the NATO response might be divided if it were only a “minor incursion.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pushed back, tweeting that “there are no minor incursions,” and the White House quickly moved into cleanup mode.

Mr. Putin’s invasion also came six months after Mr. Biden’s botched retreat from Afghanistan. The Biden administration was in danger of losing two big countries in its first two years. There was a need to shore up America’s collapsing credibility.

Trump opposes the aid package, while Biden never calls for an outright victory.

The politics have been sweeter still. Supporting Ukraine has allowed Mr. Biden to attack Mr. Trump as a Putin apologist at the same time.

The risks of supporting Ukraine are real, but so too are the risks of failing to do so. As expensive as aid might be, the Ukrainians are inflicting enormous damage to a U.S. adversary with a history of aggression toward its neighbors. In addition, frustrating Mr. Putin in Ukraine gives other unfriendly powers second thoughts about their own plans—especially China, with its threats to invade Taiwan.

But if the case is so compelling, why hasn’t Mr. Biden taken advantage of the world’s greatest bully pulpit to sell it? Why no prime-time address from the Oval Office to the American people laying out a winning strategy?

Such an address would also be an opportunity to bring Republicans aboard, provided Mr. Biden lay off the cheap shots at MAGA voters. He could hark back to the hard choices President Reagan made that forced the collapse of the Soviet Union. And yet—he refuses to make the pitch.

At this point it may simply be that he’s not up to it physically. But it’s equally likely that the president is skittish about splits within the Democratic Party. These are kept at bay so long as Ukrainians are given enough aid to keep the war going but not enough to prevail.

For the moment, the left’s anger is focused on Mr. Biden’s support for Israel in its war against Hamas. But how long before it pushes for a cease-fire in Ukraine? There already was one effort in October 2022, when 30 House members signed a letter calling on President Biden to pursue talks with Mr. Putin. They ended up pulling that letter because the timing wasn’t right, ahead of midterm elections. But the sentiment remains.

So here we are. Mr. Biden says we mustn’t give Mr. Putin a victory without quite committing himself to a Ukrainian victory. Mr. Trump says it’s “stupid” to give Kyiv anything but loans. Between the two, the American people aren’t getting the crucial debate about what we want the outcome to be and why.

Appeared in the February 20, 2024, print edition as 'No One Wants Ukraine to Win'.


Co-Founder, U.S.-Ukraine Foundation

Director of External Affairs, Friends of Ukraine Network

The introduction is Mr. McConnell’s and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and/or the Friends of Ukraine Network.