Progressive Democrats Break Rank
With Call for Diplomacy in Ukraine
The Democratic Party should be leading the call
for peace and a negotiated settlement.
This is a start.
Medea Benjamin and Marcy Winograd / Common Dreams
(October 24, 2022) — In a dramatic break with the Biden administration on the eve of the midterm elections, 30 House Democrats have sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to engage in direct talks with Russian President Vladmir Putin to end the war in Ukraine. [You can read the complete letter below — EAW/]
In addition to bilateral talks, signatories to the letter, initiated by Progressive Caucus Chair Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, urge the White House to support a mutual ceasefire and diplomatic efforts to avoid a protracted war that threatens more human suffering and spiraling global inflation, as well as nuclear war through intention or miscalculation.
Despite President Biden’s recent acknowledgement that we have never been closer to nuclear Armageddon since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Biden has not met with Putin since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, and he recently told the press he will refuse to meet with Putin next month when the two attend the G-20 Summit in Bali.
In addition to Congresswoman Jayapal (D-WA), the Democratic signers of the letter are:
Representatives Adams (NC), Blumenauer (OR), Bowman (NY, Bush (MO), Carson (IN), Clarke (D-NY), De Fazio (D-OR), DeSaulnier (CA), Garcia (IL), Grijalva (AZ), Jackson Lee (TX), Jacobs (CA), Johnson (GA), Jones (NY), Khanna (CA), Lee (CA), Moore (WI), Newman (IL), Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Omar (MN), Paine (NJ), Pingree (ME), Pocan (WI), Pressley(MA), Raskin (MD), Takano (CA), Tlaib (MI), Velazquez (NY), and Watson Coleman (NJ).
Expressing praise for Biden’s “commitment to Ukraine’s legitimate struggle against Russia’s war of aggression,” the letter dodges the question of whether the United States should continue to arm Ukraine with medium-range rockets, ammunition, drones, tanks and other weapons.
The letter reads “…. we urge you to pair the military and economic support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire.” The key words here are “has provided” as opposed to “will provide,” leaving open the possibility that some Democrats will oppose future weapons transfers.
Back in May, not a single Democrat voted against the eye-popping $40 billion Ukraine package, much of it earmarked for weapons, intelligence, and combat training. On September 30, Congress passed the “Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act,” giving another $12.35 billion of our tax dollars for training, equipment, weapons, and direct financial aid for Ukraine–without so much as a whisper of dissent from Democrats.
So far, the only congressional opposition to arming Ukraine has come from far right Republicans. Despite Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s enthusiastic support for the $40 billion package, 57 House Republicans and 11 GOP Senators voted against it. Some objected because they thought the US military should focus on China or on the US-Mexico border, but others cited concerns over the lack of oversight, unmet domestic needs and runaway spending.
One of the most prominent critics of Biden’s handling of the war is former President Donald Trump. Never mind that Trump reversed his predecessor President Barack Obama’s decision to refrain from sending offensive weapons to Ukraine and failed to negotiate the continuation of two vital arms control treaties with Russia—the Open Skies Treaty and the Intermediate Nuclear-Range Forces Treaty (INF). Trump is now using his public appearances and the media, including his social media platform Truth Social, to call for peace talks.
“Be strategic, be smart (brilliant!), get a negotiated deal done NOW,” he wrote online. At an Arizona rally, Trump boomed, “With potentially hundreds of thousands of people dying, we must demand the immediate negotiation of the peaceful end to the war in Ukraine, or we will end up in World War III and there will be nothing left of our planet.”
Trump has also insisted that if he were president, the war in Ukraine would not have happened because unlike Biden, he would have met with Putin: “I’d talk to him; I’d meet with him. There is no communication between him and Biden.” Trump volunteered himself as a possible negotiator. “I will head up group???” he wrote on TruthSocial.
Also calling for negotiations is far-right Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson. Carlson says that the nuclear threat “is enough for any responsible person to say, ‘now we stop,’ especially if that person is the leader of the United States, the country which is funding this war and that could end this war tonight by calling Ukraine to the table.”
Tesla’s Elon Musk, now backing Republicans, told his 107 million Twitter followers that “the probability of nuclear war is rising rapidly” and suggested a very rational peace deal in which Russia keeps Crimea, Ukraine affirms neutrality from NATO and the UN oversees referendums in the Donbas.
Another newly minted Republican now condemning US support for the war is former 2020 Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, once a supporter of Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders and a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee. Gabbard announced that she is quitting the party in power, saying: “I can no longer remain in today’s Democratic Party that is now under complete control of an elitist cabal of warmongers.”
Political observers might surmise that Gabbard is positioning herself for another presidential run, but whether or not that’s the case, her sharp criticism of Democrats is finding an audience among millions of Fox viewers.
If Republicans take over the House in November, House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy warns they may turn off the money spigot for Ukraine. “I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.”
McCarthy’s comment caused such panic on Capitol Hill that according to NBC News, leaders in both parties are considering passing legislation in the lame duck session to send Ukraine $50 billion more in weapons, military training and economic aid, bringing the total US tab since the Russian invasion to over $100 billion, which exceeds the budget of the entire US State Department.
It will be telling to see if any Democrats, including those who signed the Jayapal letter, will vote against more weapons. As inflation worsens and voters seek leaders to address their economic needs instead of endless war in Ukraine, Democrats, especially those who call themselves progressives, should not cede the peace position to Donald Trump and Tea Party Republicans bent on repealing voting rights, deregulating environmental protections, and banning abortion.
The future of their Democratic Party is at stake—and the human race, too.
Medea Benjamin is co-founder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace. She is the co-author, with Nicolas J.S. Davies, of War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict, available from OR Books in November 2022. Other books include, “Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran” (2018); “Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection” (2016); “Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control” (2013); “Don’t Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart” (1989), and (with Jodie Evans) “Stop the Next War Now” (2005).
Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America served as a 2020 DNC Delegate for Bernie Sanders and co-founded the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party. Coordinator of CODEPINKCONGRESS, Marcy spearheads Capitol Hill calling parties to mobilize co-sponsors and votes for peace and foreign policy legislation.
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In February 2022, President Biden was promoting diplomacy to reach a durable peace aggrement.
Congress of the United States
Dear Mr. President:
(October 24, 2022) — We write with appreciation for your commitment to Ukraine’s legitimate struggle against Russia’s war of aggression. Your support for the self-defense of an independent, sovereign, and democratic state has been supported by Congress, including through various appropriations of military, economic and humanitarian aid in furtherance of this cause. Your administration’s policy was critical to enable the Ukrainian people, through their courageous fighting and heroic sacrifices, to deal a historic military defeat to Russia, forcing Russia to dramatically scale back the stated goals of the invasion.
Crucially, you achieved this while also maintaining that it is imperative to avoid direct military conflict with Russia, which would lead to “World War III, something we must strive to prevent.” The risk of nuclear weapons being used has been estimated to be higher now than at any time since the height of the Cold War. Given the catastrophic possibilities of nuclear escalation and miscalculation, which only increase the longer this war continues, we agree with your goal of avoiding direct military conflict as an overriding national-security priority.
Given the destruction created by this war for Ukraine and the world, as well as the risk of catastrophic escalation, we also believe it is in the interests of Ukraine, the United States, and the world to avoid a prolonged conflict. For this reason, we urge you to pair the military and economic support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire. This is consistent with your recognition that “there’s going to have to be a negotiated settlement here,” and
your concern that Vladimir Putin “doesn’t have a way out right now, and I’m trying to figure out what we do about that.”
We are under no illusions regarding the difficulties involved in engaging Russia given its outrageous and illegal invasion of Ukraine and its decision to make additional illegal annexations of Ukrainian territory. However, if there is a way to end the war while preserving a free and independent Ukraine, it is America’s responsibility to pursue every diplomatic avenue to support such a solution that is acceptable to the people of Ukraine.
Such a framework would presumably include incentives to end hostilities, including some form of sanctions relief, and bring together the international community to establish security guarantees for a free and independent Ukraine that are acceptable for all parties, particularly Ukrainians. The alternative to diplomacy is protracted war, with both its attendant certainties and catastrophic and unknowable risks.
Russia’s invasion has caused incalculable harm for the people of Ukraine, leading to the deaths of countless thousands of civilians, Ukrainian soldiers, and displacement of 13 million people, while Russia’s recent seizure of cities in Ukraine’s east have led to the most pivotal moment in the conflict and the consolidation of Russian control over roughly 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory.
The conflict threatens an additional tens of millions more worldwide, as skyrocketing prices in wheat, fertilizer and fuel spark acute crises in global hunger and poverty. A war that is allowed to grind on for years—potentially escalating in intensity and geographic scope— threatens to displace, kill, and immiserate far more Ukrainians while causing hunger, poverty,
and death around the world. The conflict has also contributed to elevated gas and food prices at home, fueling inflation and high oil prices for Americans in recent months. Economists believe that if the situation in Ukraine is stabilized, some of the speculative concerns driving higher fuel costs will subside and likely lead to a drop in world oil prices.
We agree with the Administration’s perspective that it is not America’s place to pressure Ukraine’s government regarding sovereign decisions, and with the principle you have enunciated that there should be “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.”
But as legislators responsible for the expenditure of tens of billions of US taxpayer dollars in military assistance in the conflict, we believe such involvement in this war also creates a responsibility for the United States to seriously explore all possible avenues, including direct engagement with Russia, to reduce harm and support Ukraine in achieving a peaceful settlement.
In May, President Zelensky, despite deadlocked negotiations, reiterated that the war “will only definitively end through diplomacy,” and had previously explained that “any mentally healthy person always chooses the diplomatic path, because he or she knows: even if it is difficult, it can prevent the loss of thousands, tens of thousands…and maybe even millions of lives.”
In conclusion, we urge you to make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire, engage in direct talks with Russia, explore prospects for a new European security arrangement acceptable to all parties that will allow for a sovereign and independent Ukraine, and, in coordination with our Ukrainian partners, seek a rapid end to the conflict and reiterate this goal as America’s chief priority.