December 13, 2023

Ukraine: Time to End It

With Russia and Ukraine at a stalemate, and with Volodymyr Zelensky in need of more billions, the time is right for a negotiated settlement.

If Congress doesn’t cough up $61 billion more to Ukraine, and if it doesn’t do so before heading off on holiday break, Joe Biden says they’ll be giving Russian President Vladimir Putin “the greatest Christmas gift they could possibly give him.”

Maybe it’s just us, but this doesn’t seem like the best way to win friends and influence people. In any case, Biden’s warning was a none-too-subtle swipe at Republicans, who are increasingly disinclined to trust him in matters of finance or foreign policy, and who aren’t at all eager to keep writing blank checks for a black hole of a foreign war. Still, that didn’t stop Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky from making his third trip to the U.S. this year with tin cup in hand.

“Putin is banking on the United States failing to deliver for Ukraine,” said Biden. “We must prove him wrong.” Then he vowed to Zelensky, who was standing at the lectern to his right, “I’ll not walk away from Ukraine and neither will the American people.”

That’s a bold promise to make on behalf of the American people, especially when it comes from a president so deeply unpopular.

Biden’s teleprompter must’ve been in the repair shop yesterday afternoon because he simply stared down at his prepared remarks during the presser, rarely looking up at any point during his speech. One word that kept coming up, though — both in Biden’s speech and in Zelensky’s — was “freedom.” Clearly, this was arranged in advance, and shrewdly so. Few words in the English language wield as much power.

Perhaps Biden’s best barb came when he noted that the Russians themselves are cheering the American intransigence: “If you’re being celebrated by Russian propagandists,” his handlers wrote, “it might be time to re-think what you’re doing. History will judge harshly those who turn their backs on freedom’s cause.”

When asked by a Ukrainian journalist about next year’s NATO summit and what Zelensky hoped to see come out of that summit, he wisely punted to Biden. “NATO will be in Ukraine’s future,” said Biden, “no question about that. But as we said … Ukraine will become a member of NATO when all allies agree and conditions are met. Right now, we have to make sure they win the war.”

What Biden is proposing is a $110 billion package of funding for Ukraine, Israel, and “other national security priorities,” as the Associated Press put it. Ukraine’s share of the loot would be $61 billion, and that would come on top of the $113 billion that Congress already committed to the country in January — money which the Biden administration says has nearly run out.

We know what you’re thinking: chump change. And, in a way, you’re right, especially given that our nation is nearly $34 freaking trillion in debt. But, hey, a hundred billion here, a hundred billion there, and pretty soon we’re talking about real money.

Ohio Republican Senator J.D. Vance, for one, isn’t overly enthusiastic. As he put it Monday, if you want to secure your own southern border before helping Ukraine to secure its border with Russia, you’re cast as “a Putin puppet,” adding: “I think it’s disgraceful. I think it’s grotesque.”

Another Republican senator, Arkansas’s Tom Cotton, had a similar take about the importance of securing our southern border: “Joe Biden seems to care more about other countries’ borders than he does our own.” Cotton, who unlike Vance favors support for Ukraine, nonetheless notes that the people streaming across our southern border are not nursing mothers with babies; they’re military-age males, and that’s why even the FBI is alarmed.

Zelensky is in a tough spot. The American people are largely sympathetic toward his country and its war with Russia, but they’re largely sick of funding it. And they’re especially sick of funding Ukraine’s teachers and professors and other civil servants. And given the way Joe Biden has managed things, it’s easy to understand Zelensky’s frustration. “Biden has essentially slow-walked us, back-peddled us, incrementally provided Zelensky just enough to keep from losing but not enough to help him win,” said Florida Republican Congressman and former Green Beret Michael Waltz. “How can we in good conscience go home to our constituents, tell them that they need to dig deeper in their pockets for tens of billions of dollars more, when we have no strategy, we’re stuck in a stalemate … and our own border is out of control?”

There’s that word again: the border. We’re sensing a trend. “I just don’t think Democrats appreciate, specifically, how committed Republicans are to securing our southern border,” said Missouri Senator Eric Schmitt.

As for the stalemate, the question now becomes: Do we fully fund Ukraine and fight for Russia’s utter defeat, or do we try to stop Putin where he is and ensure that Ukraine, while not made whole again, is still a viable country? As Waltz says, “Those are two different questions.” The Federalist’s John Daniel Davidson advocates for stopping Putin where he is, writing:

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the war in Ukraine is an unwinnable quagmire, and that for all the calls we hear for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict, what’s really needed is a ceasefire in Ukraine, where the solution today is more or less what it was before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022: a negotiated settlement. …

The United States isn’t going to risk World War III to guarantee Ukraine’s 1991 borders, and the sooner Senate Republicans and the Biden administration make that clear to Zelensky, the sooner we can start working out what a post-war settlement could look like for Ukraine and Russia.

It’s hard to imagine a negotiated settlement involving Joe Biden, but who knows? Maybe the Russians are ready. Nebraska Congressman Don Bacon says that with our help, Ukrainian forces have taken 300,000 Russians off the battlefield with about 130,000 killed. And with the Javelin missiles we’ve been sending, the Ukrainians have also destroyed about half of Russia’s tanks.

Congress is scrambling to get something done before its members head home for the holidays, but a Christmas miracle appears unlikely.

Given this fiscally perilous time, we think that’s a good thing.

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