The Congressional Progressive Caucus and Ukraine
Yesterday I suggested that the CPC letter calling for Biden to negotiate with Putin was a mistake, and that it was at least partly motivated by a desire to strike a pose for the “utopian blame-America-first segment of the democratic base.”
Events have moved quickly since then. Rep. Jayapal, the head of the CPC, withdrew the letter. She said it had been drafted over the summer and then released by staff without being properly vetted. She apologized for the timing of the letter – it created the impression that Democrats are divided on Ukraine and that some progressives are aligned with the McCarthy faction of the Republican party that wants to cut off aid to Ukraine. But she defended the substance of the letter, by stating that “every war ends with diplomacy”.
The letter does seem to have been drafted over the summer. How it got released now is unclear; at least some of the signers were blindsided. A good analysis for those wanting a deeper dive is here.
Events have strengthened my view that the letter served no purpose other than pandering to voters who are either 1) critical of everything the United States does in the world or 2) scared about the risk of nuclear war and think that this justifies allowing the Russians to dismember Ukraine, with all that implies in terms of genocide/atrocities in Ukraine and for the stability of the world going forward.
The pandering hypothesis is supported because other explanations for the letter do not make sense: 1) there is absolutely no reason to think that Biden would not negotiate with Putin if Putin was willing to put a reasonable proposal on the table, 2) if the CPC members were worried that Biden was not open to negotiations, they could have raised this issue privately, rather than making a public statement, 3) if Biden was trying to signal resolve to Putin by refusing to negotiate, making a public statement undercuts his position. The overarching point here is that foreign policy simply cannot be conducted by Congress, much less by press releases from the CPC.
There is only one non-pandering justification for such a letter than I can see, viz., to push for an immediate settlement of the war on terms favorable to Russia to reduce the risk of a worldwide thermonuclear exchange. This is not my view, but it’s coherent. But it’s also not clearly embraced by the CPC. They do cite the risk of nuclear war to justify their call for negotiations, but they do not explicitly call for Ukrainian capitulation.
I am left with the conclusion that the letter was an effort to shore up support among voters stuck in a “the United States is a colonial power” mindset. It is also possible that the CPC members were motivated to make a public statement that gestured towards this view because they treat being “progressive” as a distinct identity that impels them to find some way to differentiate themselves from the rest of the party on every issue. We all do this, but under the circumstances it’s a tendency that should have been resisted.
The final piece of evidence for my interpretation comes from an interview Rep. Ro Khanna gave to CNN. Khanna is the only member of the CPC I am aware of who has publicly doubled down on his support for the letter. He also has presidential ambitions, which gives him an incentive to curry favor with primary voters.
Khanna’s stated position in the interview is clearly incoherent. He emphasizes that he supports military aid to Ukraine and says that we need our military leaders to talk to their Russian counterparts to reduce risk of nuclear war. That’s fine, but those talks are undoubtedly taking place, and the letter calls for diplomatic negotiations by Biden to end the war. His focus on nuclear escalation highlights the fact that our interests may differ from those of Ukraine, which as I noted yesterday is potentially true and could justify us pressuring Ukraine to settle on unfavorable terms to reduce the threat of nuclear war. But this calls his commitment to military aid into question and could undercut efforts to end the war by giving Putin hope that his rope-a-dope strategy might succeed. Finally, Khanna says we need to debate and discuss foreign policy and that his job requires him to support diplomacy. Well, of course, but diplomacy is not conducted by press releases from the CPC, and Khanna refuses to openly embrace the only possible substantive disagreement he has with the Biden administration, viz., that the risk of nuclear escalation justifies pressuring Ukraine to settle the war on unfavorable terms. I disagree with this, and I do not think Khanna accepts it either, but this is a debate that Congress could have.
I am left with pandering.
Finally, I should say that I do not regard this as a major incident that will have profound implications for the course of the war or the upcoming election. Nor do I see this as a reason to oppose the CPC or a Khanna presidential bid. We all make mistakes, and politicians sometimes pander in a democracy. In the grand scheme of things, this is a feature of democracy, not a bug.
However, politicians sometimes can and should resist the temptation to curry favor with misguided voters. Here, the case for trying to educate voters, or simply remaining silent, was strong.
And I suppose Rep. Jayapal needs to review her office procedures.
Putin celebrates this inane letter. Meanwhile, Khanna has the same odds to run for President as I do. Zilch. And now with this stance, less than zilch.
Oh, Congressman Khanna can run for president. But his odds of being elected (or even nominated by the Democratic Party or slim or none). It shows the bubble he lives in that he imagines if Trump is elected in 2024 that a Democrat (or whatever the opposition party starts being called during the Trumpist Regnum) will be “elected” after 2024. He will be lucky if he & most Democrats congresspersons are not locked up in Guantanamo in Trump’s first year back in office.
I did not know Dan hired a jokester to give us an afternoon laugh.
Prof. Heather had this to say about one-third of the way down in her recent piece.
I agree it is a mistaken release, the timing was not good (another mistake), and it makes Dems to appear to be confused on their policies. Maybe it was supposed to be a summer letter. Releasing it now and just before a mid-term election feeds the opposition.
It would still have been stupid in the summer.
I am whining about the timing being so close. At least in summer, people would have a couple months to forget it. Now it is seriously stupid to shoot yourself.
Also, Representative Jaypal is not correct that “all wars end with diplomacy” as the 3rd Reich, Imperial Japan, and the Confederate States of America would disagree from the ash bin of History.
Oh, the US did not rebuild anything?
It was a dumb move by Rep. Jayapal, the head of the CPC.
No less dumb for blaming it on a staffer.
Over in Europe…
Ukraine is not going to back down, and neither is Russia.
Until one of them does. That’s the politics of the matter.
If Europeans, including Ukrainians, get really cold or hungry this winter, then maybe there will be some reconsideration.
In the mean time, someone could explode a ‘dirty bomb’, Russia could start firing tactical nukes at Ukrainian targets and all hell could break loose.
Our 101st Airborne division is now over there, in the neighborhood.
They’ve been there since May, apparently.
101st Airborne in Poland
Putin on Wednesday repeated Russia’s unsubstantiated warning that Ukraine was preparing to explode a ‘dirty bomb’
Putin Expected to Lay Out Views on Foreign Affairs in Speech
NY Times – just in
My experience is that in many organizations staffers don’t really mind if they get conveniently blamed for stuff that goes a little wrong. Getting people hurt or killed is another matter. This letter was an experiment. The results unfavorable. “Staff did it” fools no one, but could make on-going relations for the boss a little easier. Staff doesn’t normally care if people outside think they are screw-ups, provided key people inside understand that they went along with it for leaders’ purposes.
Well, if the oncern is how much money Ukraine is costing us, we are in a lot of trouble as a nation. We are in a lot of trouble as a nation anyway.
Whenever the letter was written, or how it came to be released, it does show that the Progressives can’t be relied upon. And I am very sorry about that. In principle and I think in deep substance I agree with them. But their proposed policies and thier politics is simply infantile.
I got into an exchange with someone on another sit in which he presented the “blame America” viewpoint. I didn’t get anywhere with him, of course, but I wondered if there is in fact a way to, if not convince people like him, at least convince me that this is not all lies all the time from both sides. Some “facts” are verifiable, at least in principle. But facts-left-out are harder to catch (even in our own rhetoric), and sometimes the facts that matter are very small and seemingly unrelated…and very hard to remember and present in a way that the other person cannot dismiss them as either lies or irrelevant. I have no illusions about the US being a serial liar…as all politicians and “statesmen” are, but the lies coming from the disloyal opposition these days seem to be to be bizarre beyond any possibility of being true.
Spending a long time talking with Social Security amateur opponents left me believing most people live in a world of nightmare perspectives…”facts” loom up out of chaos without any regard for relative size, importance, or fitting into the everyday facts by which we run our affairs reasonably well.
What would a “reasonable proposal” from Putin be?
Putin would benefit from any pause in the fighting. He needs to rearm and replan. He’ll be back unless his own people stop him. or US makes it obvious he will be met with more than he can possibly bargain for.
I don’t know if he will pull the nuclear trigger, but if we let him get away with his threat, we will live with it until…until we have to call his bluff anyway.
I don’t see any other way out of this… maybe our guys are smart enough to wear him out by keeping just below his nuclear threshold. I hope so. but it’s going to cost a lot. money and lives.