Progressive Democrats Don Helmets,
Embrace US-Russia Proxy War
Cole Harrison / The Peace Advocate
(July 2022) — Congress has appropriated $54 billion for the Ukraine war — $13.6 billion in March and $40.1 billion on May 19 — of which $31.3 is for military purposes. The May vote was 368-57 in the House and 86-11 in the Senate. All Democrats and all Massachusetts Representatives and Senators voted for the war funding, while a substantial number of Trumpist Republicans voted no.
Previously antiwar Democrats like Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Jim McGovern, Barbara Lee, Pramila Jayapal, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Ed Markey, have uncritically embraced the Administration’s escalating proxy war against Russia.
On Ukraine, there is no peace voice in Congress.
The Administration has been telegraphing since April that its aims go well beyond defending Ukraine. President Biden said that President Putin “cannot remain in power.” Secretary of Defense Austin said the US seeks to weaken Russia. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that we are fighting until “victory.”
The Administration has not outlined a strategy for ending the war — only one for hitting back at Russia. There is no off-ramp. There is no diplomacy.
The US risks being drawn into a wider war with Russia. The war diverts funds needed for COVID relief, housing, combating climate change and more into a power struggle in Europe, and pours more into the coffers of the military-industrial complex.
So why have so many progressives fallen into line behind the Administration’s policy of defeating Russia?
First, many progressives, like Biden and the centrist Democrats, say that the primary struggle in the world today is between democracy and authoritarianism, with the United States as the leader of the democracies. In this view, Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, and Vladimir Putin exemplify an anti-democratic tendency that democracies must resist.
The belief that the US is the defender of democracy provides an ideological justification for US antagonism to Russia, China, and other countries that won’t follow US dictates. Peace lovers must reject this view.
The US is hardly in a position to bring democracy to the world. The US quest to impose its own model of “democracy” on other countries has led it to cause the disasters of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba and to unrelenting antagonism to Iran, Venezuela, Russia, China, and more. In reality, the US is an empire, not a democracy. Its policy is not driven by the needs or opinions of its people, but by the needs of capitalism.
Second, progressives support human rights and international law. When US adversaries trample on human rights or invade other countries, progressives sympathize with the victims. They’re right to do so.
But progressives are not skeptical enough. They are often manipulated by the war party to sign on to US wars and sanctions campaigns that are totally ineffective at supporting human rights and really undermine them. Human rights violations happen in all wars, both those started by the United States and those started by Russia. War itself is a violation of human rights.
Until they are ready to see that other countries’ political systems also deserve respect and engagement, progressives are not able to break out of the war party’s frame, even if they at times oppose it on specific issues. US public opinion is already beginning to shift on Ukraine as the economic damage of sanctions sets in. This was reflected in the 68 Republican votes against the Ukraine aid package.
So far, progressives are boxed in by their pro-democracy and anti-Russian ideology and have declined to take up this issue. As antiwar sentiment grows, the progressive movement will pay a heavy price for the decision of its Congressional delegation to support the US war effort.
Cole Harrison is Executive Director of Massachusetts Peace Action