I wrote yesterday to commend the Congressional Progressive Caucus for its letter calling for the pursuit of a diplomatic solution to the Russo-Ukraine War. Mainstream Democrats eviscerated the move, labeling it a letter Vladimir Putin would be happy to sign. Still, it was encouraging to see at least some Democrats urging an alternative to war.
The hope was misplaced, it seems. The CPC actually withdrew their letter yesterday, about 24 hours after its release. There is a lot to unpack here, but we will start with the CPC’s lack of political courage.
If you are going to issue a letter proposing to solve the most contentious issue in geopolitics, you should expect some resistance – and you should be ready to withstand that resistance. And if you are not willing to propose reasonable solutions outside of the mainstream consensus, and you are not ready to face resistance, you probably shouldn’t be serving in an office of consequence. You certainly should not be influencing U.S. foreign policy.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the CPC’s chairwoman, apologized for the release of the letter, calling it a “distraction.”
Proposing a diplomatic solution to a war into which the U.S. has already invested $65 billion – with another $50 billion soon to follow – seems more like a basic act of statecraft than a distraction.
Jayapal also apologized for bad timing, as the release of the letter became conflated with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s recent statement that Republicans will stop the flow of aid to Ukraine if the GOP wins back the House majority.
“The proximity of these statements created the unfortunate appearance that Democrats, who have strongly and unanimously supported and voted for every package of military, strategic, and economic assistance to the Ukrainian people, are somehow aligned with Republicans who seek to pull the plug on American support for President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian forces,” Jayapal said.
Of course, there are less drastic ways to keep your own policy stance from getting mixed in with someone else’s. For example, Jayapal’s apology, a simple statement explaining the difference between McCarthy’s statement and the CPC letter, would have done enough to differentiate between the two. This could have been issued while leaving the letter in play. Or, the CPC could just cater to a high denominator, rather than assume the public is incapable of drawing a distinction between McCarthy’s statement and the CPC letter. And frankly, the CPC should take a closer look at the merits of McCarthy’s statement – that there should be a limit to the amount of aid the U.S. sends Ukraine – rather than the source of the statement (a MAGA toad). The CPC should consider whether sending $115 billion to Ukraine this year helps U.S. interests generally – or more specifically, whether that $115 billion helps the CPC’s constituents, who elected progressives on the promise of expanding social safety nets.
The merits of the pro-diplomacy argument, in my opinion, further emphasize the CPC’s spinelessness. The CPC raised a valuable point. Whether you agree with it or not, direct diplomacy with Russia is a viable strategic option that the U.S. should be discussing. Diplomacy is a fundamental tool of strategy and statecraft, and to cut it out of consideration is bizarre. The CPC was simply trying to include what should never have been excluded. Diplomacy is an option. And in this case, where one belligerent possesses the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, I’d argue diplomacy is the best option.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.