Ukrainian oil and American sacrifice

I have not commented on Ukraine because I am horrified and have nothing special to say.  I would like to think the international community can find an “off ramp” for Putin, but I am pessimistic.  I believe the Russians will slowly improve their logistical position, and in any event that the most likely outcome is that the Russian army pulverizes Ukraine with overwhelming force.  I so very much hope I am wrong.

On the domestic front . . .

Apparently President Biden is about to ban imports of Russian oil. I confess I don’t know what to make of this.  It’s not clear that it will hurt Russia all that much, given the fungibility of oil and the financial sanctions that are already in place.  I doubt it will pressure the Europeans to follow suit in the short run. They are too dependent on Russia.  (In the long run I am somewhat more optimistic about this.)  I am not even sure it’s good strategy to escalate sanctions further at this point (I am not saying it’s bad strategy, I have no idea).  But apparently members of Congress are pressuring Biden to act.  

Catherine Rampell is worried that it’s a trick: Republicans will turn around and blame Biden for rising gas prices.

Republicans are setting a trap for President Biden. They’re demanding he take actions that will raise gasoline prices — with obvious plans to attack him politically after the prices rise.

To state the obvious, this is an entirely reasonable fear.

It seems to me that President Biden has two ways to blunt this line of attack.  One option is to tell Congress to pass bipartisan legislation.  This would be easy to justify – in an international crisis the world must see that Americans are united. It would help to solidify Biden’s image as a bipartisan leader.

The second option is to tell us that gas prices (and possibly overall inflation?) will rise due to a ban on Russian oil, and that tightening our belts for a month or three will be our contribution to the Ukrainian cause.  (He can also remind people that the economy continues to recover rapidly from COVID, and that the future looks bright.)

Note that this would have the added possibly large political benefit of helping the President shift blame for inflation to a hated external enemy.

Unfortunately, asking Americans to sacrifice for anything is not in vogue these days.  No one with income under 400k should pay more in taxes, etc. And President Biden is just not temperamentally inclined to go this way.  This is from his State of the Union address:

To all Americans, I will be honest with you, as I’ve always promised. A Russian dictator, invading a foreign country, has costs around the world. 

And I’m taking robust action to make sure the pain of our sanctions  is targeted at Russia’s economy. And I will use every tool at our disposal to protect American businesses and consumers. 

Tonight, I can announce that the United States has worked with 30 other countries to release 60 Million barrels of oil from reserves around the world.  

America will lead that effort, releasing 30 Million barrels from our own Strategic Petroleum Reserve. And we stand ready to do more if necessary, unified with our allies.  

These steps will help blunt gas prices here at home. And I know the news about what’s happening can seem alarming.