Three American Opinions on Ukraine

No Usual Sharp Opposing Opinions between Democrats, Republicans

Stephen Walt, Professor of International Relations at Harvard University
Stephen Walt, Professor of International Relations at Harvard University

Three American Opinions on Ukraine

Not since Joe Biden became President a year ago, have the Democrats and the Republicans declined to confront each other about a major issue – namely, the current issue of Ukraine. There have been no accusations and counter-accusations, no “endangering national security” slogans, and no calling for a special hearing, a committee, or a prosecutor.

On the Democrat side, its progressive group has been not only gaining support from Biden for its agenda, but even pushing him -- a moderate liberal -- further to the left to be accused by some of his opponents of being a “socialist.” Now, the group is warning Biden not to go to war because of Ukraine.

On the Republicans’ side, even Conservative Senator Mitch McConnell said that Biden is “moving in the right direction” in his response to Russia's threats against Ukraine. Clearly, McConnell’s nightmare will be watching Biden campaigning later in the year against Republican election nominees, accusing the Republicans of being “soft on the Commies.”

Therefore, with no usual sharp opposing opinions, a variety of opinions has emerged.

These are opinions from three ideologically diverse people, from their tweets, websites and statements to the media:

First, “Please no war,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, chairwoman of Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Second, “Confront both Russia and China,” said James Carafano of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Third, “Liberals, be realistic,” said Stephen Walt, Professor of International Relations at Harvard University, a liberal himself.


Pramila Jayapal: “Please no war:”

“We continue to watch Russia’s threatening behavior towards Ukraine with alarm. There is no military solution out of this crisis — diplomacy needs to be the focus. We support the Biden Administration’s efforts to extend and deepen the dialogue, allowing for robust negotiations and compromise …

We have significant concerns that new troop deployments, sweeping and indiscriminate sanctions, and a flood of hundreds of millions of dollars in lethal weapons will only raise tensions and increase the chance of miscalculation...

Russia’s strategy is to inflame tensions; the United States and NATO must not play into this strategy. In past crises, where events are moving quickly and intelligence is unclear, vigorous, delicate diplomacy is essential to de-escalation… 

We call upon our colleagues to allow the administration to find a diplomatic way out of this crisis …

Because things are moving so quickly, we felt it was important to make sure that members of Congress remained focused on diplomacy. We -- along with leaders of groups such as Peace Action, Code Pink, Friends Committee on National Legislation, and Win Without War --are worried that posturing by members of Congress could narrow nonmilitary options and accelerate tensions …

Sometimes, when these sorts of challenges are developing, members of Congress feel they have to do something very quickly, that they have to sign onto something that sends a message. We wanted to help people to think this through, and to understand that we don’t want to do anything that undermines the efforts of the diplomats …”


James Carafano: “Confront both Russia and China:”

“One dangerous response to the Ukraine crisis is that the U.S. should make nice with the Russians so they can either help, or at least not distract from, dealing with the threat from China. Or, at the very least, find a way to keep Moscow and Beijing from ganging up on the U.S …

This is an approach that is doomed to fail, and will do nothing to enhance the safety and security of the American people…

First, Russia and China’s goals in Europe are identical. They want a weakened and divided Europe that both can exploit. They both want to eclipse the U.S. partnership with Europe so that the free world is divided and more vulnerable. 

Second, nothing since coming to power in 1999 shows that Russian President Vladimir Putin can be a trusted partner for the West. Putin has spent more than two decades trying to undermine the U.S. and its allies at every turn.

Third, policymakers must operate in the world they are in, and not in the world they want to be in. Simply put, Russia under the leadership of Putin can never be a reliable partner for the West and there is no reason to assume why cooperating with us against China would be any different …

Russia will always prioritize its resources and energy on Europe—not Asia. Even though it spans two continents, policymakers and political elites see Russia as a European power first and foremost. This is why the Kremlin meddles in places like Belarus or Ukraine. It knows that without influence or outright control of Minsk or Kyiv, Russia is merely an Asian power and not a European one …”


Stephen Walt: “Liberal Illusions:”

“At the most basic level, realism begins with the recognition that wars occur because there is no agency or central authority that can protect states from one…

On the other side, liberalism divides the world into “good states” (those that embody liberal values) and “bad states” (pretty much everyone else). For liberals, the solution is to topple tyrants and spread democracy…

Although Moscow had little choice but to acquiesce to the admission of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into NATO, Russian concerns grew as enlargement continued… 

It didn’t help that enlargement was at odds with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s verbal assurance to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in February 1990 that if Germany were allowed to reunify within NATO then the alliance would not move “one inch eastward”—a pledge Gorbachev foolishly failed to codify in writing. (Baker and others dispute this characterization, and Baker has denied that he made any formal pledges)

Russia’s doubts increased when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003—a decision that showed a certain willful disregard for international law. Even more after the Obama administration exceeded the authority of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 and helped oust Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011…

Russia had abstained on the resolution—which authorized protecting civilians but not regimes.

The most tragic element in this whole unhappy saga is that it was avoidable. But until U.S. policymakers temper their liberal hubris and regain a fuller appreciation of realism’s uncomfortable but vital lessons, they are likely to stumble into disaster …”


font change

Related Articles