Democrats made their big break with Biden on Ukraine - GulfToday

Democrats made their big break with Biden on Ukraine

US President Joe Biden (left) walks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral on a surprise visit to Kyiv, Ukraine. AP

Joe Biden walks with Volodymyr Zelensky at St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine. File/AP

Eric Garcia, The Independent

Rep Barbara Lee (D-CA) is used to standing alone when criticising American foreign policy. In 2001, Ms Lee was the only member of Congress opposed to the War in Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks while 420 other members supported it, which prompted some to call her a traitor. But other Democrats have joined her in opposing the White House’s announcement that the Biden administration would provide Ukraine with cluster-style artillery rounds as it attempts to push back against Russia’s assault on the country. Ms Lee, now a candidate for California’s soon-to-be-open Senate seat, criticised the move, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper that it set a bad precedent.

“That’s crossing the line,” she said. “Once you see what takes place, we know what takes place in terms of cluster bombs being very dangerous to civilians. They don’t always immediately explode. Children can step on them. That’s a line we should not cross.” Biden has largely been praised for his approach to supporting Ukraine since Russia began his assault, though it has done little to bolster his approval ratings. Most Democrats have voted with legislation in the past year to support Ukraine while simultaneously restricting Russia’s access to markets around the world and putting the squeeze on oligarchs connected to the country’s President Vladimir Putin. Democrats’ nearly unanimous approach stands in stark contrast to Republicans, who, as I reported earlier this year, are much more divided between the more traditionally hawkish wing of the GOP and the more MAGA faction that sees supporting Ukraine as a violation of the “America First” principles that former president Donald Trump espoused.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has attempted to draw a distinction, saying Ukraine is trying to defend itself compared to Russia, which is actively attacking Ukraine, my colleague Andrew Feinberg reported. “When we look at what Ukraine would be doing with these weapons, as opposed to what Russia is doing with these weapons, we see a substantial difference,” Sullivan told reporters. The United States, Russia and Ukraine have not signed onto the Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions, a 2008 treaty signed by more than 100 countries banning the use of cluster munitions,

But Sen Chris Murphy (D-CT), a progressive who aside from his focus on gun violence has hoped to recalibrate American foreign policy, said on Monday that he did not buy the rationale in a Twitter thread. “Ukraine needs to maintain both a practical and moral advantage in this war. The ability to rally the world against Russia gets harder if our war efforts start to fudge ethical lines,” he tweeted. Murphy acknowledged that the Biden administration faced an impossible decision. This is not the first time that progressives have broken from foreign policy orthodoxy when it comes to Ukraine. Last year, Rep Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, led a coterie of left-leaning Democrats in her group to call on Mr Biden to negotiate a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine. But the effort backfired massively and Ms Jayapal had to walk back her letter she sent to the White House.

But the break on cluster munitions is different. The progressives asking for negotiated peace was more about differing on the outcome of the war. This is simply about tactics, and Democrats who are criticising Biden’s decision want to ensure America maintains the moral high ground in its support for Ukraine.

The divide also doesn’t fall on ideological lines. While Murphy and Ms Lee represent a decidedly more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, even moderates are criticising the administration’s decision. Sen Tim Kaine (D-VA), who represents a state with a large military population, said he had reservations about giving Ukraine cluster munitions.

“When there’s an international prohibition, and the US says, ‘But here’s a good reason to do something different,’ it could give a green light to other nations to do something different as well,” he told Fox News’s Shannon Bream that doing so could set a bad precedent.

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