The Administration’s refusal to commit to a Ukrainian Victory is bad Politics

September 2, 2023

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The disturbing clash of narratives regarding Ukraine and the counteroffensive is more-and-more obvious.

Even as Ukraine has broken through the Russian Federation’s main defense line at one key point, the Administration’s “leak offensive” continues to question Ukraine’s approach, worry publicly about Ukraine’s ability to regain its territory, and in general continue to plant doubts about Ukraine.

In this misguided leak offensive “senior officials” and “unnamed sources” seem to have captured large cadres of unquestioning journalists.  Both the sources and the journalists should be ashamed.

The real story is how extraordinarily creative and successful Ukraine is in fighting the Russian Federation despite the weapons systems the United States has not yet provided and is refusing to provide.  The United States would never allow its own military to enter battle so constrained.  Yet, Ukraine is doing things with the weapons it has been provided that the Pentagon did not know could be done.  Necessity has brought out the magnificent creativity of the people of Ukraine.

Think while some in Washington have applauded Ukraine’s making and operation of a domestically made drones that could damage the Kerch Bridge, the denied ATACMS could take out the bridge, cutting off a critical supply line to occupied Crimea.

In some way its seems to me the people of Ukraine are beyond Washington’s understanding. They are not that hard understand if you pay attention.

From the summer of 1990 when Ukraine’s parliament passed Ukraine’s Declaration of Sovereignty calling for, among other things, Ukraine’s laws to preempt the laws of the Soviet Union and for Ukraine to establish its own military, the United States worried.  It saw (and sees) Russia as an indispensable world power and that “stability” was in the continued existence of the Soviet Union.

Major media in the United States worried that if Ukraine tried to break from Moscow there would be bloodshed, and “nuclear chaos”.  President George H. W. Bush in a stop-by in Kyiv after several days of meeting with Gorbachev in Moscow spoke to Ukraine’s parliament and warned of “suicidal nationalism”.

Three weeks later that same parliament passed its Declaration of Independence and conditioned actual independence in a democratic referendum to be voted on December 1, 1991.

That referendum passed with a 92+% majority.  The people of Ukraine had their independence.  

But Putin would not accept that independence and after all forms of interference with Ukraine’s governance he invaded in 2014.

And so, since 2014 the people of Ukraine have been fighting their war of independence.

What Washington doesn’t seem to grasp is what that really means.  

We in the United States have not had to fight for our freedom.  It was fought for and secured long ago by freedom fighters long dead.  We have been comfortable, and assured of our basic freedom all of our lives.

In Ukraine people live who remember Moscow’s rule.  They remember shortages of everything, they remember that celebrating religious services required going to secret locations in the forests, they remember having to whisper even at their dinner tables because they never knew who was listening, they remember neighbors being swept up and sent off to the Gulag or worse, they lived through a rule where human life had little to no value.  They have told that history to their children and together they all actually know what not having their freedom means.

The people of Ukraine know what they are fighting for and what it means not to be free!

That is where the almost incomprehensible – to us – commitment and determination comes from.  They want their land and they want their freedom and they are willing to sacrifice dearly for both.

Yes, Ukraine and her people thank us for all we have done but they suffer no illusions.  They can see Washington is not committed to their victory and their driving Russia out of their country.

Below in a short article Dalibor Rohac makes a case that President Biden’s destiny is tied to Ukraine’s.  I would also argue that America’s standing and the respect it deserves and will be given in tied to Ukraine and we must finally make the commitment to see that Ukraine has what it needs for victory!

The Bulwark

Biden’s Destiny Is Linked to Ukraine’s

By Dalibor Rohac

August 31, 2023

THERE’S A NEW CONVENTIONAL WISDOM in Washington, best illustrated by the recent New York Times story featuring nameless Biden administration officials venting their frustration with Ukraine’s conduct of its defense against Russian aggression. Ukrainians are brave and deserve our support, goes the thinking, but the conflict will end in a stalemate. [Yes, in this and so many other articles those advancing this pathetic and faltering narrative are unnamed.  Note that those calling that narrative balderdash are on the record! And they include, among others, many of FOUN’s national Security Task Force. RAM]

If true, it would also be terrible news for President Biden, who needs his administration’s record in Ukraine to be an asset, rather than a liability, as he runs for re-election in 2024.

Whether he wants to or not, as a political issue, Biden owns the war in Ukraine. Even though, as Eric Edelman and Franklin Miller point out, “President Biden has never made the public case for his own policy in a primetime Oval Office address or anything other than on-the-run comments to the media,” he has repeatedly called for supporting Ukraine for “as long as it takes” (whatever that means). Trump, by contrast, has kept curiously quiet on Ukraine, besides promising to end the war in 24 hours. Biden has come under fire from a small but vocal cohort of Republicans for supposedly having written a “blank check” to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Support for Ukraine has declined faster among Republicans than among Democrats, with almost half of the GOP voters amenable to Russian territorial gains if it means a swift end to the war, according to a Gallup poll conducted in June. Just 19 percent of Democrats agreed. (In a May poll, 82 percent of Ukrainians opposed giving up any of Ukraine’s sovereign territory under any circumstances.)

Recent amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act to scrap funding for Ukraine, proposed by Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green and Matt Gaetz, were soundly defeated including by majorities of House Republicans (130-89 and 149-70, respectively). But opposition to Ukraine aid was still much higher than in 2022, when almost all Republicans voted for supplemental appropriations. [For the first time in over a hundred years there is bipartisan opposition to supporting Ukraine.  Of course, the embarrassingly loud Republican know-nothings deservedly get the most attention and to a great extent they seem to be promoting the earlier, more vocal, Trump view. In some cases, they seem to have no reason for their opposition beyond wanted to be positioned as against Biden’s support of Ukraine. If only they grasped the problems with the Administration’s “support”. RAM]

However, in a recent Hart Research poll, 74 percent of Americans, including 66 percent of Republicans, agreed that it was important to help “Ukraine defeat Russian aggression without Ukraine being force to give up any of its territory to Russia,” making support for Kyiv’s war aims a winning political proposition—as long as the war effort is effective.

The danger of the new conventional wisdom is that it might turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. To be sure, there are good reasons to believe that the pessimists are underrating the cumulative nature of Ukraine’s advances and ignoring Ukraine’s determination to fight now, with or without Western support.

However, developments on the battlefield are also a function of Washington’s choices. If Biden continues to balk at providing Ukraine additional weapons, Ukraine’s war effort will become much harder. [I have to emphasize that point. While the Administration has given significant support to Ukraine it has never committed to supporting a Ukrainian victory.  What Washington has given Ukraine has always been late, not when it would have been most effective. And Washington should be ashamed of what it has refused to give Ukraine.  Its stated reasons and excuses are embarrassing in their disingenuousness. RAM]

Biden faces two possible feedback cycles. If Ukraine gets the weapons and support it needs, Americans are more likely to support its war aims, making it politically easier for the administration to send more aid, ask Congress for more appropriations, and help Ukraine win faster. The international landscape and Biden’s political position would benefit, and untold Ukrainian (and Russian) lives would be saved. [To often it appears Washington officialdom does not have human lives and the genocide of Ukrainian children in the forefront of its thinking.  RAM]

The reverse could also happen. The slow pace of Ukraine’s counteroffensive (which now may be accelerating) has already degraded American support for the helping Ukraine and raised fears on both the American right and left of “forever wars.” If Ukraine fails to win because it lacks the necessary resources, more Americans will balk at investing a hopeless situation.

Going down that path would be political suicide for the administration. Biden cannot run on a record of another “forever war.” A frozen conflict, or some dodgy deal with Putin’s regime, will also make Biden look weak and ineffectual, given the considerable cost of U.S. support. The Biden administration has allocated $43 billion in security assistance for Ukraine since February 2022 (not including humanitarian and financial support). In for $43 billion, in for a pound.

In short, any outcome short of a Ukrainian victory is a threat to Biden’s 2024 run. More worryingly, it is bound to deal a fatal blow to what remains of the frayed internationalist consensus in U.S. foreign policy. If, after Iraq and Afghanistan, we will have spent tens of billions more with little to show for it, then maybe, many Americans will conclude, the isolationists were right all along. The costs of isolationism will, as usual, only become clear when it’s too late to avoid them.

Biden has only two options: go big or go home. The weapons systems that the United States has denied the Ukrainians for misguided fears of Russian escalation must be handed over now. That includes the ATACMs, the F-16s (the delivery of which the administration seems to be deliberately slow-walking), and the thousands of Abrams tanks collecting dust in storage. [The Administration’s on-going “happy talk” about what is being provided Ukraine could also come back to bite.  The Administration is expert in spinning its announcements about some weapons systems leading the public to believe those weapons are now in Ukraine’s hands when they are not.  Think the announcement that we have provided Ukraine with Patriot missiles.  Ukraine has one – one – Patriot missile system.  Remember months ago the announcement we are giving Ukraine Abrams tanks.  How many Abrams tanks are in Ukraine – zero!  There is the more recent announcement that we are going to train pilots on the F-16 and then finally deliver the fighters.  The spin suggests this could be soon.  Think late 2024.  The list goes on - - and on from before this Administration.  Often such deception has a way of coming back to bite you.  How might the “nameless” officials explain the Administration’s direct role in the difficulties the brave and determined Ukrainians are having against an enemy who could not have withstood a fully weaponized offensive?  RAM]

Resistance from some Republicans, particularly in the House, against future Ukraine aid authorizations might be hardening. But that is no reason for Biden not to push hard for more money. If nothing else, reminding voters that Republicans are divided on the subject provides a political benefit.

Finally, doubling down on the support for Ukraine requires political leadership. In February, Biden delivered an excellent foreign policy speech in Warsaw, Poland. He said, before gathered heads of state and government and many European journalists,

“One year into this war, Putin no longer doubts the strength of our coalition. But he still doubts our conviction. He doubts our staying power. He doubts our continued support for Ukraine. He doubts whether NATO can remain unified.

But there should be no doubt: Our support for Ukraine will not waver, NATO will not be divided, and we will not tire.”

Yet Americans have barely heard from him on the subject of Ukraine since.

That is political malpractice.

Now is not the time to play it safe. The past sixteen months have demonstrated that Putin’s regime is in no position to launch a world war in response to our assistance to Ukraine. Conversely, and in contrast to recent reports questioning Ukrainian military tactics, the administration has only its own self-deterrent instincts to blame for Ukraine’s slow progress on the battlefield.

The outcome of the war in Ukraine matters not just for the security of Europe or of the Indo-Pacific. It will also either boost or critically undermine America’s self-confidence, especially after the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan. And most importantly for Biden, his re-election and second term may well hinge on whether Ukrainians are able to achieve a complete victory before his time in office is up. He should act accordingly.

Dalibor Rohac is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute

The introductory comment and the parenthetical comments are Mr. McConnell’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation or the Friends of Ukraine Network (FOUN)