Officious Nonsense and Putin Apologists: Biden Bears a Cross on Ukraine
Legend has it that in 1944, bowing to traditional protocol at 10 Downing Street, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill circulated a draft of one of his speeches to civil servants in his office for their review. One bureaucrat took the perfunctory procedure somewhat overly seriously, returning the draft with a correction. The prime minister, he noted, had committed a syntactic error, ending one of his sentences with a preposition.
Churchill returned the draft to the aide with a note of his own. "This," he scribbled with some irritation, "is the sort of officious nonsense up with which I will not put."
President Joe Biden may have felt something similar on Oct. 24, when 30 Democratic members of Congress constituting the "Progressive Caucus" delivered a letter to him, duly released to the media, lecturing him on the need to pursue negotiations with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. The representatives felt that the president could benefit from their insight, which they believed he did not already have: Putin's invasion of Ukraine was killing thousands of Ukrainians and ravaging their country, and everyone would be a lot better off if he stopped killing Ukrainians and ravaging their country. "We urge you," they wrote, "to make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire, engage in direct talks with Russia (and) explore prospects for a new European security arrangement acceptable to all parties."
Here's the thing: there are fifth graders who would have known that such a letter was not only unnecessary but foolish, telling Biden nothing that he did not already know, telling Putin that support for Ukraine within Biden's own party was shaky and telling the courageous people of Ukraine that the United States may be getting ready to abandon them.
The letter made as much sense as it would have for members of Parliament to deliver and leak a letter to Churchill during World War II, urging him to please explore a peaceful resolution of Hitler's claims on Europe. It wasn't just naive, not merely childish, but obviously exactly the wrong message to send to Putin, whose fundamental calculation is that America will lose its resolve to defend Ukraine, and then when American support fades so will that of Europe.
The backlash against the letter was swift and disgusted, whereupon the chair of the Progressive Caucus declared it withdrawn hours after it had already done its damage. "The letter," she proclaimed, offering the American public a choice between concluding that her members either were buffoons or dissemblers, "was drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released without vetting."
But it is the Republicans whom Ukrainians really have to fear, and in whom Putin continues to place his hopes. "Under Republicans, not another penny will go to Ukraine!" Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene proclaimed recently. Whether despite the fact that she is a nutjob or because of it, Greene is a force in the GOP caucus. Speaker-in-waiting Rep. Kevin McCarthy has announced that Ukraine had better not count on a "blank check," words that no doubt warmed whatever exists of Putin's heart.
In May, 57 House Republicans voted against an aid package for Ukraine, which passed anyway. Fox celebrity and Putin fanboy Tucker Carlson, the second most influential voice in the Republican Party, has appeared on Russian state television more than Mehmet Oz appeared on Oprah, criticizing Biden's support for Ukraine and belittling the very notion that we should come to Ukraine's defense. And a Wall Street Journal poll released last week found that 48% of registered Republicans believed America was helping Ukraine too much -- up from 6% in March.
The brave Ukrainian people do not only need our support; they deserve it. The profoundly heinous Putin regime does not only deserve our determined opposition; it compels it. Of such triumphs of will or failures of it history is made. Democrats and Republicans must be one on this point if on no other.
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate Inc.