UKRAINE: Brutal partisanship, which side are you on?

FRIDAY 11 MARCH 2022

UKRAINE WORLD (@ukraine_world)

  • Ukraine World has a new podcast available.
  • Ukraine intelligence says that the Russians are planning an attack on Chernobyl.
  • Russian aircraft have made an airstrike from Ukraine into Belarus on the Ukraine-Belarus border.
  • Ukraine asks the West to close the sky over Ukraine.
  • Ukraine may be attacked from Transnistria in order to cut off Odesa from the rest of the country.
  •  

KYIV POST

  • Russian media is reporting that “volunteers” from the Central African Republic are ready to fight against Ukraine.

THE KYIV INDEPENDENT

  • Lithuanian parliament approves a resolution calling for immediate EU candidate status for Ukraine.

TWITTER

  • Ukraine says that the Belaruian military is set to cross the border into Ukraine at  9 PM.
  • The WSJ is calling the Biden administration refusal to provide the Polish jets, a “fiasco.”
  • Kazakhstan is sending tons of medical supplies to Ukraine.  Kazakhstan?
  • Gary Kasparov: Why are we always hearing what NATO and the US will not do?  Never what they will do? 
  • Republicans are all calling for stricter support and reinforcement for Ukraine.  Is there a PR victory that the Democrats refuse to give the Republicans?
  • General Clark: Putin doesn’t want an off ramp.

THE BIG TENT BY Brian Beutler

  • President Biden has adopted a magnanimous stance toward Republicans to convey unity in support of Ukraine; Republicans have returned the favor by attacking Biden over higher gas prices, which stem from the Ukraine policy they claim to support

The irony is that maintaining American solidarity with Ukraine will require Biden and Democrats to defeat the forces of division here in the U.S., even though that will feel divisive, because if they get their way, America will betray Ukraine all over again

The good news (“good news?”) is, Republican hands are extremely dirty, giving Democrats a lot to work with; the bad news, as always, is Democrats remain reluctant to engage, ceding the battle for narrative control to the GOP

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Here are two lines I’d like to revisit from President Biden’s State of the Union address last week (sorry, I was away):

“[Vladimir Putin] thought he could divide us at home. Putin was wrong.”

“Throughout our history we’ve learned this lesson: When dictators do not pay a price for their aggression they cause more chaos; they keep moving.”

These quotes aren’t contiguous in the text, but they’re deeply connected ideas. If dictators prevail unless they face consequences, and one of the keys to imposing those consequences is American unity, then any forces of division here in the U.S. are (intentionally or heedlessly) working hand in glove with Putin.

That’s a provocative inference, but Biden never actually drew it in the speech, and the sum of his remarks makes me wonder if he’s taken a self-defeatingly rosy view of American solidarity with Ukraine.

Biden cast American unity as presumptive, rather than something that must be fought for. He never broached America’s own brush with dictatorship; he alluded in passing and obliquely to ongoing GOP efforts to subvert elections under color of law, but not at all to the insurrection of January 6, which was—we should never stop saying—an effort supported by the majority of elected Republicans to create a dictatorship right here in the United States.

All of that recent history is very hard to square with triumphalism about American resolve: Our wannabe dictator and his lieutenants have yet to pay a price for their aggression; they’re also, almost to a person, Putin’s most influential allies and useful idiots in American politics. And they keep moving. Suddenly, the stakes of failing to exact a toll for their crimes against democracy have grown. Before Putin’s invasion, the big domestic fear was that the insurrectionists would try to claim power illegitimately once again; now it includes the certainty that they’ll undermine American resolve to support Ukraine along the way.

It follows from Biden’s own view of things, then, that defeating Putin will also require imposing consequences, if only political consequences, on the American authoritarians who would be happy to see Putin win. But those villains featured nowhere in Biden’s assessment of America’s civic health.

① THE GAS MENAGERIE

It’s admittedly a bit paradoxical. Victory requires resolve, resolve requires brutal partisanship, which at least feels divisive. But the logic actually follows, and it’s inescapable.

Biden’s evident purpose was to broadcast American unity for Putin, Ukraine, and NATO to see. State of the Union addresses not delivered by Donald Trump aren’t usually very partisan; this one was civil even by SOTU standards, all to avoid creating the impression that the United States is only half committed to Ukrainian victory. But whether that was the right decision in the context of this one speech or not (I don’t claim to know) it’s important for Biden and all Democrats to understand in their own minds that the display was largely artificial; it gave Republicans far more credit than they deserve, and at some point Democrats are going to have to confront reality head on.

Why? Brace yourself for this, it may come as a shock: Republicans have not returned the favor of Biden’s magnanimity. If for some reason you thought that they wouldn’t treat Putin’s war first and foremost as a circumstance to exploit for partisan political gain—well, you were wrong, and also I have a vehicle with poor gas mileage to sell you.

Here I don’t even mean the Republicans like Trump who have really sided with Russia against Ukraine and the west. They of course want the war to be a drain on Democrats not just because they want Republicans to win elections, but because they want Putin to win his war. The consensus Republican position, though, is that Biden should if anything support Ukraine more aggressively than he has (many will even claim to believe that the invasion is his fault) and also that Biden is to blame for the domestic economic consequences of those policies.

It’s their usual method of reflexive, nonsensical demagoguery (cf. Nikki Haley) deployed in this case on the brink of World War III.

The point isn’t that members of both parties are obligated to fall in line behind the leader just because there’s a national or global security threat somewhere (that’s what Republicans say when they’re in charge and ginning up wars of conquest). It’s that the world can see their motives are ulterior. Whatever their hearts tell them about Ukraine and how America should conduct itself as an ally, they will undermine American resolve in that role if and when it might yield them a domestic political advantage. And everyone knows it. It’d be as if Democrats had hectored George W. Bush into invading Iraq, for the sole purpose of making Americans angry about the price at the pump, while the most famous members of the party fawned over Saddam Hussein’s great genius.

National unity behind an effort facing this kind of bad faith won’t endure for very long. And if our role in Ukraine is destined to become marked by partisan rancor it’d be a tragedy for Democrats—the earnestly pro-Ukraine, pro-democracy majority in the country—to end up on the losing side of it.

② VLAD TO THE BONE

At the moment, the American public rightly sides with Ukraine over Putin, viewing the latter as a liar and a tyrant, the person responsible for plunging the world into the gravest international crisis it’s faced in decades.

With that in mind, let’s review. When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president, he’d already amassed a lengthy and up-to-then inexplicable public record of pro-Putin adulation. What we didn’t know then, and would only learn when it was tragically too late, is that Putin had bribed him, as he’d bribed many other right-wing political figures in democratic countries, with an eight-figure proposal to build a Trump-branded hotel in Moscow.

If we’d known, it might’ve colored our view of things when, for instance, the Trump campaign (through it’s criminal campaign manager, whose business partner was a Russian spy) strong-armed the GOP into dropping support for arming Ukraine (then under Russian occupation in Crimea) from its official platform. It might have made us more alarmed than we were when Trump pulled the “Russia, if you’re listening” bit, imploring his patrons in Moscow to steal and publish Hillary Clinton’s emails. It definitely would’ve made us reassess the perceptiveness of Kevin McCarthy, when we learned in 2017 that he’d been secretly taped before the election saying he think Putin “pays” Trump (before supporting Trump’s candidacy without reservation).

Still, what we did know was enough to make many of us suspect what Robert Mueller later confirmed: That the Trump campaign and the Russian government had an understanding (and probably a more explicit arrangement) under which Russia would help Trump win the election through illegal sabotage, and Trump would reward Putin with various geopolitical favors: weakening NATO, undermining liberal democracy, and (perhaps most importantly) giving him a freer hand in Ukraine.

And then Trump did his part. He and Putin stood together in Helsinki and lied to the world about their 2016 collaboration, disparaging the U.S. government which had concluded otherwise on the global stage. After multiple conversations with Putin that have been lost to history—either because he held them in secret, or destroyed U.S. government records of them—he joined a Russian disinformation campaign to claim Ukraine had meddled in the 2016 election. We can be pretty sure he knew he was lying because, after all, he participated in the actual, lengthily investigated subversion plot. And for his ultimate act of betrayal, he illegally withheld military aid the U.S. had obligated to Ukraine unless its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, agreed to smear Joe Biden ahead of the next campaign.

When he got caught in the middle of this scheme, the House rightly impeached him. But every single elected Republican save for Mitt Romney decided it was fine, or, at least, nothing Trump should face any consequences for it. They had the numbers to acquit Trump, and, just as Biden said of dictators throughout history, Trump kept moving.

③ WHEN THE OTHER SHOE GOPS

That’s all the background you need to gauge the sincerity of the GOP’s commitment to Ukrainian autonomy. It’s the context that explains why people who now claim to be unwavering supporters of Ukraine and Zelensky would simultaneously try to sour the American public on the costs of allyship. They don’t particularly care if they weaken the national resolve to punish Putin, because Ukraine has always been a pawn to them; or if not a pawn, then subordinate to the higher calling of Republican partisan advantage.

All of these Republicans are aware of everything Donald Trump has said in recent weeks about Putin and Ukraine, just as they’re aware that he teamed up with Russia to sabotage both Ukraine and the 2016 election, and that he continues to spread poisonous lies about the election in 2020, assaulting democracy at home while we try to defend it abroad. Trump has been banished from mainstream social media, and both Democratic leaders and the national media have frequently engaged in collective, ritual ostriching, as if the best way to limit the damage he might inflict is to act as though it isn’t happening. But everything he says and does filters into the hivemind of the GOP; they know what will come to be party dogma if he runs for the party’s presidential nomination and wins. And through it all, Republican after Republican has made clear that, whether they want him to be the nominee or not, they will support him anyhow, with all that entails.

Bill Barr says, “It’s inconceivable to me that I wouldn’t vote for the Republican nominee.” Mitch McConnell will “absolutely” support the man who heaps abuse on him almost daily.

And let’s not delude ourselves: That will almost certainly entail abandoning Ukraine. The most slavish Trump loyalists the party have already taken to parroting Kremlin propaganda about Zelensky’s ‘thuggishness’ and echoing conspiratorial lies meant to justify the Russian invasion. We know the overwhelming majority of Republicans will go along with it if forced to choose between that and party disarray, because they’ve done it before.

And you know who else knows it? Putin, Zelensky, and the rest of the world’s interested parties. As morally satisfying as it may feel to affect a stance of national unity, the benefits for our global alliances are small and the domestic political costs are high. So long as Republicans are what they are, failing to make issue of their fair-weather commitment to Ukraine cedes the whole terrain of political contestation over the Ukraine question to bad actors, allowing them to persuade the electorate that the only thing wrong with our Ukraine policy is Joe Biden’s stewardship of it. That all the sacrifices Putin’s war entails from us are outgrowths of his failures.

Biden has taken to calling it “Putin’s price hike” but he hasn’t completed the circle to make it clear that the people blaming him for higher gas prices are actually doing Putin’s dirty work. Or that this should come as no surprise since Trump’s in Putin’s pocket and they support Trump all the way. Putin has put the western way of life in existential danger, Trump is subservient to Putin, and Republicans are subservient to Trump. It does no further harm to America to level with the world about what Republicans are, and it does Ukraine no favors to pretend America’s commitments to its sovereignty are consistent across our two parties. The Democratic commitment is ironclad. The Republican commitment is Potemkin.


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