Dems' left flank puts party on spot

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS)

The Congressional Progressive Caucus last week issued, then quickly withdrew, a poorly timed letter to President Joe Biden urging stepped-up efforts to negotiate a settlement to the war in Ukraine, putting their fellow Democrats in the awkward position of appearing hand-wringing and indecisive ahead of midterm elections. The letter’s wording raises the question of whose side the progressives are really on: Russia’s or the West’s?

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, authored the letter. Right under her signature is that of Rep. Cori Bush of St. Louis, an early and outspoken skeptic of U.S. support for Ukraine and critic of the heavy economic sanctions the administration has imposed on Russia. The letter reiterates the hardships caused by the sanctions and suggests that Biden should offer to halt them as an enticement for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to negotiate.

Biden has made clear from the beginning that the sanctions will end when Russia ends its illegal invasion of Ukraine. What Bush and her cohorts have never seemed to grasp is that war criminals like Putin do not understand the language of diplomacy. He has poisoned and assassinated his critics, jailed others and harshly cracked down on free expression within Russia. When Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, used chemical weapons against his own people, Putin sided with Assad.

A young girl pauses in the basement of her apartment block where she now lives with her mother amid ongoing fighting between Ukrainian and Russian occupying forces, on Oct. 20, 2022, in Lyman, Donetsk oblast, Ukraine. (Carl Court/Getty Images/TNS)

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Negotiation at this point is tantamount to appeasement. Whatever utopian image progressives might have about Russia from its socialist past is a pipe dream. Putin has dedicated himself to restoring the old Soviet model of thuggish, murderous oppression.

Some argue that the war in Ukraine is unwinnable for either side and that a negotiated settlement is inevitable — the sooner the better, considering the escalating danger of nuclear confrontation. But Ukrainian forces, with heavy U.S. support, have fought back courageously and forced Russian troops into retreat across multiple fronts. This is not the time for Biden to press Ukraine for concessions in exchange for negotiations with Putin.

It was the recognition of dramatic changes on the ground that ultimately prompted the progressives to withdraw their letter last week. One signatory, California Rep. Sara Jacobs, tweeted: “Timing in diplomacy is everything. I signed this letter on June 30, but a lot has changed since then. I wouldn’t sign it today. We have to continue supporting Ukraine economically and militarily to give them the leverage they need to end this war.” Bush has offered no such reconsideration.

Those who think Russia will never back down from this fight might want to study the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Moscow’s embarrassing withdrawal a decade later. That defeat at the hands of a ragtag Afghan resistance (again, heavily aided by U.S. armaments) helped prompt the Soviet Union’s collapse. Appeasing Putin only encourages him. Biden gets enough second-guessing from the Republicans; he doesn’t need more from his own party.

— From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS).