McManus: Bipartisanship on Ukraine was nice while it lasted

In the eight months since Russia invaded Ukraine, public support for US military aid to Kyiv has been remarkably solid and largely bipartisan.

A large majority of Americans (73% in a Reuters/Ipsos poll this month) support continued aid to Ukraine, and Congress, with bipartisan support, has approved more than $65 billion in aid.

But cracks in the consensus are emerging, and the split government likely post-midterm will almost certainly make them worse.

A growing faction of Republicans, most notably former President Trump, has already called for aid to be reduced or halted altogether.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said this month that Congress will become more skeptical about aid to Ukraine if his party takes control of the House.

Some Democrats have also expressed concerns about the length of the war. Last week, 30 members of the House Progressive Caucus issued a letter urging President Biden to step up diplomatic efforts to end the war – only for him to withdraw in embarrassment after several signatories objected to the tone and timing.

The two episodes differed in important respects. McCarthy may be Speaker of the House until January; his views could decide whether aid to Ukraine even gets through Congress. The progressive Democrats represent a smaller faction in their party – and did their cause no good by issuing and withdrawing a letter that appeared to criticize their own president.

But both incidents must have pleased Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has worked diligently to weaken support for Ukraine in the United States and other Western countries.

That’s not to say that any American hoped for that outcome — except perhaps Trump, who has long expressed open admiration for the Russian autocrat.

But help from the United States and its allies was key to Ukraine’s ability to repel Russia’s much larger forces. When Western countries tire, Putin would win a victory as great as any he has won on the battlefield.

The Republican disagreement over support for Ukraine should not have surprised anyone. Trump and his most ardent supporters have long opposed US aid to almost any foreign country.

In May, 57 House Republicans and 11 GOP senators voted against a government request for $40 billion in aid. Since then, Republican skepticism has only grown.

McCarthy joined the cause this month, perhaps in response to pressure from his right as he seeks support for his election as Speaker.

“I think people are going to sit in a recession and not give Ukraine a blank check,” McCarthy said, forecasting next year’s Congress. “They just won’t do it.”

The pro-Trump wing is weaker in the Senate, where Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has praised Biden’s approach and lamented the resurgence of what he calls “our isolationist wing.”

The progressive Democrat train wreck was more complicated. They wrote their letter last summer, at the height of Putin’s threats of nuclear war; Some signatories said they merely wanted to encourage Biden to defuse the threat of direct US-Russia conflict.

But the timing of the letter’s release was spectacularly clumsy. It made the progressives sound as if they were allied with McCarthy and the Trumpists, faction leader Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) admitted.

And at a time when the Ukrainian army has been gaining ground, it has appeared intent on halting Kiev’s offensive.

“In diplomacy, timing is everything,” said Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-San Diego), one of the signers, who withdrew her support.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont) defended the letter, calling it “common sense.” But he added – as the letter did not make entirely clear – that he also supports the continued supply of US arms to Ukraine.

Khanna was right on at least one level: diplomacy to stave off a major war and promote negotiations is considered common sense.

But any diplomatic solution must be “acceptable to the people of Ukraine,” as the progressives’ letter acknowledges. At this point, most Ukrainians want to oust Russian troops from their territory before attempting to negotiate.

There is nothing wrong with debating how much aid the United States should give to Ukraine or what kind of diplomatic solution it should seek.

At this point, however, neither Ukraine nor Russia are ready for a deal. Until they are, the main question is how far Ukraine can take the fight – and that will depend in large part on how long their Western backers maintain their support.

In the coming months, as the cumulative costs of war mount and a presidential campaign begins, divisions over Ukraine will almost certainly widen in the United States — especially if Trump steps in as the candidate.

The arguments of the past few weeks have been a not very polished preview of a larger debate. The miracle is that it took them so long to break out. McManus: Bipartisanship on Ukraine was nice while it lasted

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