Ukraine hasn’t been lost yet. But it will be if Congress fails to pass a Ukraine military aid package this month .
Without U.S. weapons and equipment, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky bluntly put it, “we will lose the war.”
Who will get the blame if U.S. aid ceases and Russian President Vladimir Putin triumphantly enters Kyiv, executes or imprisons tens of thousands of Ukrainians, wipes out the Ukrainian identity, and starts menacing Western Europe with his newly-captured, Western supplied armaments?
The obvious culprits, but not the only ones, will be the Congressional Republicans who have tied Ukraine military aid to U.S. immigration policy, perhaps the most intractable, divisive issue in American politics today, even though the one has nothing to do with the other. Republicans are engaged in a not-so-subtle form of political hostage taking by in effect telling Democrats: either you cave in to our immigration policy demands or we turn Ukraine over to the Butcher of Bucha.
Reportedly, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) understands that supporting Ukraine is in America’s national interest but he needs border security concessions from the Democrats to win the votes of MAGA-Republicans for Ukraine aid. He got away once with relying on House Democrats’ support to avoid a government shutdown, but again relying on Democratic votes to pass major legislation, such as the Ukraine aid, could self-destruct his House Speakership. But whether it’s Republican political opportunism, political necessity, or political cowardice, the result will be the same: the death of a gallant democracy, a Ukrainian human rights catastrophe, and a geopolitical disaster for America.
Imagine the glee in Moscow, Beijing and Tehran if Ukraine falls.
Democrats get the blame for being immigration nincompoops, who never seem to find the right balance between border security and lawful immigration. But without a serious compromise on border policy, Democrats may doom Ukraine to die on the hill of their own unpopular immigration policies. Even Democratic governors and big city mayors say that Biden’s policies are not working , and less than 25 percent of registered voters approve of them.
To make everything harder, Republicans are certainly not approaching Ukraine aid in a spirit of compromise. They demand painful border policy concessions from Democrats, beginning with tougher asylum standards, but without offering any concessions of their own, such as permanent status for the childhood arrivals known as “Dreamers.” Already, pro-immigration Democrats are furious just at the prospect of tougher asylum standards, and this will make it harder to pass any Ukraine aid.
Then there is Joe Biden. He has done as much as anyone to keep Ukraine fighting, but he cannot convince his fellow Americans, whose support for Ukraine has been steadily dropping , that its survival is of paramount importance to American national security. The job of the president, as Harry Truman once said, is to “persuade people to do the things they ought to have sense enough to do without my persuading them.” In his nationwide address in support of his Ukraine and Israeli aid package, Biden tried but failed to give a speech that met the Truman standard.
Now Biden, like Ukraine, is at the mercy of dysfunctional Congressional politics. The bungled American withdrawal when the U.S.-supported Afghanistan regime collapsed dealt a blow to Biden’s approval ratings from which they have never recovered . Another messy collapse of an American-backed ally, even if Republicans are the proximate cause, would be dire for Biden’s re-election prospects.
If Ukraine falls, the answer to the question, “Who Lost Ukraine,” as in an Agatha Christie novel, will be that everyone, in his own way, stabbed the victim.
Gregory J. Wallance was a federal prosecutor in the Carter and Reagan administrations and a member of the ABSCAM prosecution team, which convicted a U.S. senator and six representatives of bribery. His newest book is Into Siberia: George Kennan’s Epic Journey Through the Brutal, Frozen Heart of Russia.