Western policy towards Ukraine is one of those weird issues where the socialist left and the nationalist right are on side, while the mainstream left and the mainstream right are on the other. It’s the ‘extremes’ against the middle, in other words.
Socialists are sceptical of Western policy toward Ukraine for several reasons: a lingering affection for Russia, due to its socialist past; a reflexive opposition to Western foreign policy, perhaps borne of national self-flagellation; and a cynicism about the role of the U.S. and NATO in all of this.
The nationalist right shares the socialist left’s cynicism about the U.S. and NATO. It also believes that Western nations should put the interests of their own citizens first, rather than funnelling large sums of money into a foreign country.
This is an oversimplification, of course. There are centrists – people like Robert Wright, John Mearsheimer and Anatol Lieven – who’ve expressed scepticism about the West’s Ukraine policy. But most of the politicians who’ve done so are from one of the two camps identified above.
Until recently, almost all the U.S. politicians who’d expressed scepticism about the West’s Ukraine policy were right-wing nationalists (Tulsi Gabbard is an obvious exception). When Congress voted on a $40 billion aid package back in May, all the dissenters were ‘America First’ Republicans – 57 in the House and 11 in the Senate.
But they’re no longer the only ones with reservations. Yesterday, 30 left-wing Democrats wrote to Biden, urging him to “make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement”. Their number included all six members of The Squad.
The missive does not call for an end to U.S. support for Ukraine. Rather, it asks the administration to combine military and economic support with a “proactive diplomatic push”. As to what that might entail, the authors mention “incentives to end hostilities, including some form of sanctions relief,” as well as “a new European security arrangement acceptable to all parties”.
In addition, they urge Biden to “engage in direct talks with Russia” – something various commentators have said is necessary to end the fighting. Earlier this year, Viktor Orbán argued “the war can only be brought to an end with Russo-American negotiations”.
The authors’ proposals will not go far enough for some.
They concede that “it is not America’s place to pressure Ukraine’s government”. Yet this “makes no sense either practically or morally”, according to historian Anatol Lieven. “In numerous other conflicts,” he writes, “Western governments have felt able to propose and even in some cases to enforce peace settlements of their own devising”.
Others will dismiss the proposals as an outline for ‘appeasement’.
The real question, though, is whether they’ll have an impact on U.S. policy. And if I had to guess, I’d say it’s unlikely.
Stop Press: After only one day, the letter has been withdrawn. In a statement, the Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said it was “released by staff without vetting” – though critics claim this is just an excuse.