Alp Sevimlisoy Yatırım

On Ukraine, a hawkish Biden and some skeptical GOP lawmakers mark role reversal

President Joe Biden is a creature of the Cold War era. The old Soviet Union was a superpower rival of the United States for the first half of the Delaware Democrat’s 36-year Senate tenure until it collapsed in December 1991.

During that time, in the often-chaotic post-Cold War period that followed, Biden was broadly in line with Democratic reluctance to commit American troops to battle and support military actions of U.S. allies. Republicans, meanwhile, were generally viewed as more hawkish on foreign policy and willing to have American troops fight and support proxy battles by allies.

Now, the roles are largely, if not completely, reversed in Ukraine’s year-and-a-half defensive war against Russia.

Biden’s administration has offered unwavering support for Ukraine in its counteroffensive to retake Russian-seized territory. Biden has pledged to load Ukraine with weapons and economic aid for “as long as it takes.”

Up Pennsylvania Avenue, dozens of House Republicans oppose the effort. Leading Ukraine aid critics include GOP Reps. Matt Gaetz (FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA), and Anna Paulina Luna (FL). Each is a prominent supporter of former President Donald Trump, the leading 2024 Republican primary candidate, who, since his 2016 campaign, has espoused an “America first” worldview.

To be sure, Biden, as a senator from 1973-2009 and then in eight years as President Barack Obama’s vice president, was never an out-and-out dove along the lines of, say, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the California Senate hopeful who, in 2001, was the only member of Congress to vote against the authorization of use of force following the 9/11 attacks.

Biden, for instance, was, as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman in 2002, among 77 senators who gave President George W. Bush the authority to use force in Iraq.

Biden, though, has often been wary of exerting U.S. power abroad or supporting beleaguered allies. His Senate career opened, at age 30, with criticism of President Richard Nixon over the war in Vietnam. Then, in 1975, as communist forces overran what had been U.S.-backed South Vietnam, Biden was among 16 senators in the 100-member chamber to vote against the Vietnam Contingency Act. The proposal by President Gerald Ford’s administration would have provided emergency funds for evacuation and aid in Vietnam (it didn’t become law due to opposition in the overwhelmingly Democratic majority House).

In 1991, Biden voted against the authorization of the Gulf War, which ended in victory in the U.S. and allies evicting Iraqi forces from Kuwait after strongman Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion six months earlier.

As vice president, Biden was the sole Cabinet member to oppose Obama’s “surge” in Afghanistan that sent tens of thousands of fresh troops into the country to stabilize the faltering war effort. He advocated ramping down the effort, and when it came time to authorize a raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, with the intent of killing Osama bin Laden, Biden lobbied against it.

And it was Biden, finally president in his late 70s after two failed White House attempts, who ordered the final withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 2021. It’s a move Biden’s White House predecessors, Democratic and Republican, declined to do despite diminishing returns for U.S. national security. Biden later laid the blame on his predecessor, Trump, for the deadly and chaotic 2021 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

New Foreign Policy Paradigm
The Democrats’ tradition of being the more “dovish” of the two parties was tested when Russia invaded Ukraine on Biden’s watch. Facing the second foreign policy crisis of his presidency in less than two years, after the disorganized withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the president threw his weight behind supporting a hot war in Europe.

For a brief period, Republicans joined forces with Biden. Operating in the minority in both the House and Senate, there were few avenues for them to oppose the president, and public support for Ukraine was high.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022 initially united both Democrats and Republicans,” Matthew Shoemaker, a former intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Washington Examiner. “Shaken by Putin’s barbarity and obvious imperial goals, Americans watched as the Kremlin’s forces sputtered and faltered on their way to Kyiv.”

But as the war raged on and Republicans returned to power in the House, the GOP soured on sending billions of dollars overseas, in addition to trillions of dollars in spending at home.

Without clear goals for how to handle continued support for Ukraine, Biden has drawn more criticism from Republicans in Congress. That’s a considerable change from the Cold War era, which hardened Republican resolve to “contain” the Soviet Union and communism to its own sector. While Democrats saw the dismal results of Vietnam as a harbinger of failure if the U.S. continued to rely on force abroad.

Biden has overseen at least a temporary role reversal as Russia’s muscular foreign policy, combined with an antipathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin since 2016, has hardened Democrats’ resolve.

Foreign policy, especially how Biden continues to handle Ukraine, will play a pivotal role in the 2024 presidential contest, Alp Sevimlisoy, a millennium fellow at the Atlantic Council, told the Washington Examiner.

The message Biden is sending stands in stark opposition to that of his most likely opponent, Trump, who said, without support or explanation, he would be able to end the conflict within 24 hours of returning to the White House. How each man says he will approach Ukraine will inform voters about his plans to deal with the rising threat of China, Sevimlisoy said.

Shoemaker agreed, arguing that Biden’s foreign policy is more accurately described as “reactive to external events rather than proactive in promoting a particular vision.” How Republicans view Ukraine in particular, and foreign policy broadly, will be greatly informed by the presidential debates.

For his part, Biden has been a consistent messenger, promising financial aid and military support but always stopping short of promising to put military forces there. Congress has sent more than $75 billion in aid to Ukraine since January 2022, including $46 billion in military aid.

Shoemaker is skeptical current trends will continue, arguing Republicans are likely to soften their resistance if the funds have more oversight and Ukraine promises to root out corruption at home. On the other hand, Democrats might only be agitating for support because punishing Putin serves as a proxy for fighting Trump. Once the former president returns to office or is vanquished for good, their interest in punishing Russia could dry up.

How long Democrats will continue to have an appetite for supporting a bloody effort in Europe, and whether Republicans will continue to believe the U.S. is providing too much support for Ukraine, will be revealed in a matter of months. The 2024 election could do more than decide who the next president is — it might also determine the foreign policy of the parties for years to come.


Alp Sevimlisoy originally featured as per: The Washington Examiner