Dem Sen. Chris Coons: It's time to consider U.S. troops in Ukraine

Dem Sen. Chris Coons: It's time to consider U.S. troops in Ukraine

Not a great sign that some major American politicians have already reached this stage after less than two months of war. And Coons very much does count as “major” in this context. He’s from Biden’s home state and is close to the president, to the point where he’s been touted as an eventual replacement for Tony Blinken at the State Department.

I thought Democrats had moved on from their “responsibility to protect” phase after Libya, but apparently not. On the contrary: Coons is ready for R2P, as it’s colloquially known, in Ukraine despite the risk of a nuclear conflict.

He’s offering World War II logic in a potential World War III setting: Isn’t it better to rush in early and confront an aggressor who harbors imperial ambitions before he gathers strength, concludes he’s invincible, and kills tens of millions? The flaw in that logic in the case of Russia and Ukraine, though, is that Putin can’t possibly be convinced after the past two months that Russia is “invincible” or anything close to it. He may yet win his war with Ukraine but only at shocking expense, to the long-term ruination of Russia’s economy. As much as he may have surrounded himself with a bubble of happy talk and yes-men before the war, hard realities like the Moskva’s sinking and the Russian army’s withdrawal from around Kiev have surely driven home to him by now that in a conventional war with NATO he’d get his ass roundly kicked.

And maybe not just NATO. Would anyone bet on Russia in a head-to-head fight against, say, Poland after this?

So when Coons says, “I think the history of the 21st century turns on how fiercely we defend freedom in Ukraine,” what does he mean, exactly? Where does he think Russia is going next after its army limps across the finish line in Ukraine? And if he means that China is learning lessons from the war and may calibrate its own expansionist ambitions accordingly, I don’t know why he thinks sending U.S. troops into Ukraine will drastically affect those calibrations. China already expects the U.S. military to come to Taiwan’s aid if it invades. And if we didn’t, the bruising economic warfare the west has waged on Russia and the surprisingly effective domestic Ukrainian resistance are reasons enough for China to think twice.

Besides: It’s not clear that the Ukrainians actually need U.S. help on the battlefield to win. Certainly they would win if we intervened, but they might be able to handle business themselves with the weapons we’ve given them. They’re already making some gains in the east:

Mariupol is a goner but the fact that it’s taken Russia so much time and effort to seize the city has eaten up resources that could have otherwise been applied to advancing in the Donbas. The Ukrainians holding out there are doomed but their resistance may end up being a classic case of losing the battle only to win the war. In fact, strategists are chattering on social media today that the Ukrainians have made meaningful moves lately around Izyum, an important city for Russia in its plan to surround Ukrainian forces in the Donbas.

If the Ukrainian advance around Izyum continues, Russia’s going to end up with a big force in the city that’s encircled and can’t be resupplied unless and until Russian forces elsewhere in Ukraine move up and try to break the Ukrainian lines. Martin thinks the war ends with a Ukrainian victory and Putin eventually being ousted in disgrace. Fingers crossed.

Coons wasn’t the only member of Congress who made news on Ukraine this weekend, by the way. Kevin McCarthy floated this provocative theory:

That’s good politics inasmuch as it blames the ruling party for Ukraine’s woes at a moment when something like 90 percent of Americans sympathize with Zelensky and his people, but I’m skeptical that McCarthy is right. Let’s say Biden had taken his advice and started arming the Ukrainians to the teeth months before the war — Javelins, drones, helicopters, artillery, you name it — in hopes of deterring a Russian attack. What would have happened? My guess:

1. Deluded by his own propaganda that the Ukrainian military was a pushover, Putin would have laughed and thought how nice it would be for Russia to seize all of those fine American weapons after it invaded and took over the country in three days or whatever. “The Taliban now has an arsenal of American weapons. We will too!”

2. Trumpist Republicans would have savaged Biden for supplying the weapons after Putin invaded, claiming that doing so provoked the attack. Russia apologists are forever keen to reframe Moscow’s imperialism as defensive measures taken in response to western aggression. Just as having NATO on its doorstep supposedly leaves Russia with no choice but to lash out, having a massive shipment of American weapons to Ukraine would have left Russia with no choice but to intervene and disarm the Ukrainians.

I don’t know if McCarthy himself would be calling the conflict “Biden’s war” had the White House preemptively armed Zelensky but I guarantee that populists like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Tucker Carlson would.

Exit question: If K-Mac wants to criticize a president for dragging his feet on arming Ukraine, isn’t there a more prominent example in recent history?

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