The Congressional Progressive Caucus, as I suspect you know, is the club for far-left House members. On October 24, its chair, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, sent the White House a letter signed by 30 of her colleagues. The subject was Vladmir Putin’s imperialist and colonialist war against Ukraine.
Ignoring recent Ukrainian battlefield advances, and the absence of any sign that Putin is prepared to end the conflict, the letter urged President Biden to engage in “direct talks with Russia,” “make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement” and “reiterate this goal as America’s chief priority.”
Less than 24 hours later, Jayapal withdrew the letter.
In a statement, she said: “The letter was drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting.”
May I fill you in on what broadcaster Paul Harvey used to call “the rest of the story”?
The letter was indeed written months ago, at a time when Putin’s invading forces appeared to have the upper hand. It was to be released only if signed by no fewer than 30 of the CPC’s roughly 100 members. Because only 15 got on board, it became a dead letter.
Over recent weeks, however, such groups as Code Pink, Win Without War and the Quincy Institute have lobbied CPC members—letter and pen in hand.
According to reporting by Politico, they succeeded in gathering 30 signatures, and then approached Jayapal, who approved the letter—personally. Soon after, it was delivered to Biden and released publicly.
Members who had signed months ago were blindsided. Rep. Sara Jacobs, who signed in June, told Politico: “A lot has changed since then. I wouldn’t sign it today.” Another signatory, Rep. Jamie Raskin, issued a statement saying he was “glad” the letter had been withdrawn, because of its “unfortunate timing and other flaws.”
The coalition of activist groups largely responsible for this “screwup”—to quote Rep. Mark Pocan, chair emeritus of the CPC—is an odd goulash. While Code Pink and Win Without War are rock-solid left, the Quincy Institute is funded both by George Soros, a well-known leftist billionaire, and Charles Koch, a prominent billionaire on the right.
What they appear to have in common is isolationism. It’s likely they come to that standpoint for different reasons. Simply put: Left isolationists see America as unworthy to be a world leader. Right isolationists see the world as unworthy of American leadership.
More curiously, Quincy’s executive vice president is Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), which has long advocated—not least to Barack Obama when he was president—conciliatory policies toward Iran’s anti-American jihadi rulers. Ten years ago, Parsi brought a defamation lawsuit against Hassan Dai, a human rights activist who called him an agent of Tehran. The court dismissed the action and ordered Parsi and NIAC to pay a significant part of the defendant’s legal expenses.
Joe Cirincione, a well-known voice on the left, was a fellow at Quincy. He resigned in July because of the institute’s soft-on-Putin approach. In an interview with Steve Clemens of the new online newsletter Semafor, he called the CPC letter “an incoherent mishmash of contradictory positions based on an outdated analysis of the war.”
He added: “This letter reflected one deeply flawed proposal from those who see the West as responsible for the war and now want the US to force Ukraine to end it.”
How might the West be responsible? One argument you’ll hear is that Putin is motivated by fear that Ukraine would join NATO and pose a threat to Russia. But NATO is a strictly defensive alliance. And some NATO members—Germany springs to mind—have pitiful military capabilities, and for years refused to spend even the agreed baseline of two percent of their GDP on military readiness. You may recall President Trump giving then-German chancellor Angela Merkel a piece of his mind on this subject.
What’s more, joining NATO requires the approval of all 30 current members. Several—Germany again springs to mind—were never prepared to open the door to Ukraine. Among the reasons: Germany allowed itself to become dependent on Russia’s fossil fuels.
No one should oppose diplomacy. But we need to be aware that Putin’s eyes are on America’s knees. If he sees them wobbling, if he judges that we are incapable of enduring stress and uncertainty (unlike him) and have developed the habit of abandoning allies and capitulating to enemies, he’ll know what to do: refuse any compromise and issue terms for surrender gussied up as a “diplomatic solution.” Have we not seen that movie before?
The less-bad (and Reaganesque) approach is not to write a blank check, but to continue providing the ammunition—made by American workers in American factories—that Ukrainians need to fight an anti-American tyrant. At some point that tyrant may run out of rockets and/or cannon fodder (the more vivid Russian phrase is “cannon meat”) and decide to cut his losses.
He might then approach one of his old friends—Olaf Scholz, Emmanuel Macron, Narendra Modi, or Silvio Berlusconi—and ask for help. The serious negotiations would take place long before the diplomats check in at a posh hotel in Vienna.
This would leave Putin in no position to attack NATO nations that once were Soviet “republics” or satellites—nations he covets and which the United States is pledged to defend.
Despots in Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang would then think hard about invading their neighbors—harder than they would have if America and its allies had ceded Ukraine to the Kremlin because that seemed a price worth paying for, shall we say, peace in our time.
Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times.