America calling: The Ukraine war needs diplomacy not daredevil talk

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 8, 2022

The US midterms matter…to Ukraine. Yes and no.

Conventional wisdom has it that if Republicans take back control of the House, they will slow America’s generosity towards Ukraine. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has indicated as much, saying that if his party wins, it wouldn’t “write a blank check to Ukraine”.  Marjorie Taylor Greene, the outspoken, far-right Republican from Georgia, has declared that “Under Republicans, not another penny will go to Ukraine”. And  J.D. Vance, the Trump-endorsed Republican nominee for the Senate in Ohio,  put it very bluntly: “I think we’re at the point where we’ve given enough money in Ukraine, I really do. … The Europeans need to step up. And frankly, if the Ukrainians and the Europeans, more importantly, knew that America wasn’t going to foot the bill, they might actually step up.”

Some would shake their heads and mutter about Republican callousness. But the truth is progressive Democrats too are uneasy about the Ukraine situation as the war rages on, nine months in, and there is no discernible plan for how it ends. Some weeks ago, a group of 30 House of Representatives Democrats sent – and then retracted – a letter to President Joe Biden, urging direct talks with Russia.

The retraction followed a backlash within the Democratic Party for reasons that were everything to do with optics – and today’s midterm elections – and nothing to do with common sense.

The common sense view would be to use every diplomatic manoeuvre possible to try and bring an end to the war.

So what if Mr McCarthy’s stated position on Ukraine and the progressive Democrats’ missive starts to give the impression of agreement across the aisle?

Why should it be a political inconvenience to agree that wars must end rather than be pursued, no matter what?

Pramila Jayapal, leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has admitted the timing of the letter was bad but noted that “every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will too after Ukrainian victory”. The letter, she said, had become “a distraction.”

Yes, but what about that other “d” word, diplomacy? Surely it’s time to beat that drum, these many grinding months into the war?

The alternatives are too dreadful to contemplate – for Ukraine, for its neighbours, for the global peace and nuclear non-proliferation movements. As Gideon Rachman, the ‘Financial Times’’ chief foreign affairs columnist recently noted (paywall): “For some of Ukraine’s most ardent backers, even talking about diplomacy amounts to appeasement. Their argument is that the only acceptable and realistic way to end the war is for Putin to be defeated. This is fine as a statement of principle, but not hugely helpful in practice.”