Ukraine, Russia and the U.S. — Now What?

It’s right there on the front page of the New York Times: “After Ukraine Visit, Pelosi Pledges U.S. Support ‘Until Victory is Won’”.  Speaker Pelosi, of we-have-to-pass-this-bill -to-find-out-what’s-in-it fame, has yet to define what victory would look like other than to say, according to the Times, that “the United States would stand with its ally until Russia [is] defeated.”

It is difficult for any serious student of geopolitics to believe that this stunt is anything other than a desperate maneuver by Democrats to avoid a richly deserved shellacking come this November.  Consider for instance that the delegation Ms. Pelosi led to Ukraine consisted entirely of Democrats. Not a single Republican.  Why would that be? 

So here we are.  Ms. Pelosi has effectively declared  war on Russia which, by the way, she lacks the authority to do. Congress, not the Speaker, has the power to declare war under Article 1, Section 8. The President, however, is the Commander in Chief as specified under Article II, Section 2. It is the President acting in his capacity as Commander in Chief who has the authority to wage war. 

Of course a lack of legal authority has never been a serious impediment to Ms. Pelosi’s behavior.  As if to make the point, Ms. Pelosi refers to Ukraine as an “ally” of the United States, notwithstanding the fact that Ukraine is nothing of the kind. Yes, the U.S. and Ukraine have overlapping interests in resisting Russian aggression. But that does not make Ukraine an ally. The U.S. does have formal alliances with NATO members like the UK, Poland and Germany, a point that the Biden administration has been at pains to point out. But apparently the distinction between overlapping interests and an alliance is lost on Ms. Pelosi. 

Let’s turn to the substance of Ms. Pelosi’s remarks, about which the White House has thus far remained silent. (Perhaps there is a glitch in the White House teleprompter.) Some questions: what exactly is victory supposed to mean, and what are the implications for U.S. foreign policy? 

A retreat of Russian forces from Ukraine (and Crimea for that matter) would count as a victory of sorts. Then what? Is the plan to go back to status quo ante? Does anybody seriously think that is a possibility? Does Vladimir Putin—a war criminal according to President Biden—remain in power in Russia? Does Russia  (headed by said war criminal) remain a go-between for the United States and Iran as the Biden administration attempts to re-negotiate the Iran nuclear deal?  

What happens with U.S. energy policy? Does the U.S.  continue on with its Green New Deal fantasy while Russia rebuilds its fossil fuel capacity? Does Germany permanently break its ties with Russia, and its dependence on Russian energy? How about India, a consumer of Russian energy, which has yet to come out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? And then there is the Middle East, where Saudi Arabia refuses Biden’s phone calls, but talks with Russia. 

Let’s think about defense policy for a moment. What should the U.S. defense posture be? Any serious change would require a far more muscular defense policy. And yet shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine the Biden Administration proposed a defense budget that, in real inflation-adjusted terms, would have reduced U.S. defense expenditures while significantly expanding domestic spending. Does anybody seriously believe that Biden, Pelosi and Schumer are going to increase defense spending (including weapons acquisition) while reducing progressive domestic priorities? 

And that ignores China’s increasing aggressiveness in the South China Sea. And North Korea’s rediscovered penchant for test firing ballistic missiles. Ditto for Iran’s recent test launches of missiles capable of carrying warheads. With Pakistan increasingly hostile to U.S. interests and India playing footsie with Russia, absent a serious change in U.S. policy we could easily be facing a situation in which Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea and India are adverse to U.S. interests.

The ultimate question—the obvious one that the political class is studiously avoiding—is whether the United States is ready to resume its post WW2 role as the guarantor of the security and stability of the West. Such a role would necessarily extend protection beyond the borders of Europe. It would require an expansion of the current network of alliances in Asia going beyond the existing ones with South Korea and Japan. It would also require the U.S. to adjust its relationship with China in order to wean China away from its increasingly adversarial foreign policy and  its domestic authoritarianism. Easier said than done. 

And what of Russia? The Biden Administration claims it wants to see Russia “weakened”.  That implies that Russia will always be an adversary. And to the extent that the U.S. actually has a policy vis-a-vis Russia, it is clear that the Biden Administration is simply hoping that someone, somewhere, somehow overthrows Putin and shuts down the war leaving a weakened Russia in its wake. 

Hope is not a strategy. Besides which there is no reason to think that a palace coup would create a Russia that is any friendlier to the West. The goal of the United States should not be to weaken Russia, it should be to wean Russia away from authoritarianism so that it can become a partner with the West. It is the only realistic long term strategy for preserving freedom.

Preserving freedom and peace is going to require a restoration of neoliberalism with its commitment to the rule of law and free trade, albeit with new rules. The United States is the only power  capable of globally enforcing a liberal rules-based order. It is a question of political will.

The United States faces a choice. It can resume its leadership of a neoliberal rules based order that will lead to greater freedom and prosperity. Alternatively it can continue its headlong rush over the progressive cliff to certain ruin. We should be under no illusions about this. The future, as always, will be determined by the choices we make; it is not pre-determined.


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