President Joe Biden Addressed the U.N. General Assembly Saying That American Aid Supporting Ukraine Will Help in Saving Global Democracy
The debate, if you can call it that, over the commitment to stand by Ukraine against a marauding Russia seems neatly to encapsulate a lot of what ails us these days.
On the one side stands Joe Biden, speaking with knowledge and sturdy restraint about maintaining a sense of America in the world, of showing how to defend democracy and oppose autocracy, and to lead as a first among friends.
Whatever the issues over his age and longevity in seeking re-election, or even positions on other issues, the Biden who talked to world leaders at the U.N. on Tuesday was a man whose reserves of reason and steadiness seemed confidence-building, committed to international resistance against the attack on democracy abroad and at home. The very normalcy of his arguments somehow came across as reassuring.
On the other is a hodgepodge of isolationist dissent from opponent Republicans who are insistent that no more American aid should go overseas – even if it serves a national purpose beyond the obvious moral issues, even as it may serve Russia’s aspirations more than our own.
The extreme Republican House members threaten their own party speaker if he continues to support military help to Ukraine. Donald Trump, who wants to be president again, goes further, claiming that he would force an end to war in one day or maybe three – by abandoning the fight and caving to Russia.
This image also has been clear: An emotional, national self-delusion based on slippery assertions of fact that the United States can operate alone in dictating world outcomes over war, profit, even pandemics, just as the same isolationist groups can think for all Americans. These are people who assume that largess unspent on Ukraine somehow will underwrite a fence to effectively stop migration into this country, give everyone in the country a raise and magically lower the cost of eggs.
Not a Debate
In between, we saw anew at the United Nations and in Washington, is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who once again came across as both brave and persuasive about the argument that Ukraine is battling as much for the future of democracy as for the fate of his own country. His story is about the effects of Russian war crimes, of kidnapping children, blocking food deliveries and rocket attacks on hospitals and residential areas as Russian artillery aims at nuclear power plants.
If war has any purpose at all, it should be evidence in Ukraine, he basically argues.
It’s not much of a debate.
The sides don’t talk with each other, don’t seek to persuade, just lobbing verbal bombs. Zelenskyy, fresh from declaring the U.N. Security Council useless, is coming to Washington today to meet with Biden and with senators, but most House Republicans apparently will avoid him altogether.
Instead, it’s a check item on the list that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., keeps as reasons to let our own government shut down because the administration and the country don’t want to bow to her demands that also include impeachment, closing the border, taking money away from the Justice Department’s prosecution of Donald Trump and slashing spending. She described her position as “I can’t vote for the Republican budget unless we defund things.”
That’s what is passing as reasoning that leaves Speaker Kevin McCarthy in the soup for having bargained over budgets with the White House only to find that his real problem was in his own caucus. So, McCarthy is sputtering about looking for “accountability” from Zelenskyy and asking “where’s the plan for victory” – questions that he is not pursuing with Russian invaders.
Painting the Issues
I talk with regularly with a woman in western Ukraine. Her concerns are the same as those here: For her child and her family, for improving skills to get an income to afford her life, for success in school, business, supermarket prices and keeping normalcy in a life made much more difficult when missile alerts pierce the night and apartments must prepare for artillery damage. She is not on the front lines, but the war is a daily fact in her life.
Dealing with the issues of American and international policy about Ukraine may well be worth debate over how much and how fast this country can keep Russian aggression bottled up. It may be worth debates over military strategies and tactics or over what weapons are working best or training of Ukrainian soldiers and pilots. It shouldn’t be over protecting against invasions.
We seem to have forgotten just how to go about having such a debate based either reason or on advice from military and diplomatic experts whom opponents are showing daily that they no longer trust. And the United Nations itself has been structurally hamstrung because its Security Council permanent hierarchy includes the very same Russia – and China – as holder of a veto over constraining action.
Of all the things to criticize about Biden, the Ukraine case – and the handling of international issues more generally – reflect the opposite. He and Ukraine’s Zelenskyy have been wildly successful at maintaining a strong coalition, in buttressing the value and effectiveness of the NATO alliance, in resisting and isolating Russian aspirations toward restoration of the Soviet empire, and in forestalling attacks on other, next targets, including Taiwan and other former Soviet satellite countries.
By contrast, the handling of international affairs has become a relative weakness for Trump and Republicans, since Trump’s statements start with isolation and move to praise for autocrats – international and domestic – and towards the chances of making money.
Maybe the debate ought to start by acknowledging a disbalance in thinking.