Three big questions that Congress and the public need to be asking on US policy in the Russia-Ukraine War
The Trumpista position in American politics on NATO support for Ukraine in the current Russia-Ukraine War is about as vapid of substance as most of the crude-isolationist America Firster foreign policy talk is.It comes married to enthusiastic hawkishness against China and loyal support for ever-increasing military budgets. Trump-style American Firster foreign policy has always been about narrow nationalism and militarism, even when the rhetoric is sometimes adapted to criticize military actions by Democrats. Or, occasionally, other Republicans.
But I do think that it is the responsibility of Congress to exercise genuine critical oversight over the US policy in this war. The Democrats mostly show little enthusiasm for doing that. And it’s hard to imagine any Republicans pretentions at oversight that aren’t superficial and petty partisanship like “Benghazi! Benghazi!! Benghazi!!!”
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But here are three areas where the US and Western publics need to know more about what the actual US policy is.
Putin’s ICC Indictment
This DW News report briefly addresses the indictment of Vladimir Putin by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on war crimes committed by Russia forces in Ukraine.
President Biden’s public comment was strangely ambiguous:
“Well, I think it’s justified,” Biden told reporters before leaving the White House for Delaware. “But the question is, it’s not recognized internationally by us, either. But I think it makes a very strong point.”
Asked whether Putin should be tried for war crimes, Biden did not directly answer, but said the Russian leader has “clearly committed war crimes.”
The ICC earlier Friday issued an arrest warrant for Putin and another Russian official. The warrant is believed to be one of the first charges against Putin for war crimes in Ukraine, part of a global effort to hold the Russian president and the Russian Federation accountable for atrocities beginning with the full-scale February 2022 invasion. [my emphasis]
Biden has always been known for off-the-cuff-style comments, so that part is nothing new. But public statements by Presidents of the United States are just that, and Biden obviously knows that, as well.
This is a lot more complicated than “Putin is a bad guy.” For one thing, he’s the leader of the country invading Ukraine and his government is the one with which Ukraine and NATO powers will have to negotiate over conflict termination.
An ICC indictment means that all countries that recognize the ICC’s authority (“states party to the Rome Statute” in the official jargon) are obligated to arrest Putin if he enters their national territory. This includes countries like Australia, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and Venezuela.
This certainly narrows the possibility of a peace treaty being signed between in countries that might present diplomatic advantages as a location, such as officially neutral countries Austria, Sweden, or Switzerland.
It is also likely to confirm once again which is widely assumed to be Putin’s perspective that the Western powers are aiming for “regime change” against him.
Most of the American press are unlikely to call attention to it, but the fact that the American President is praising the ICC indictment of Putin while explicitly saying publicly that the US doesn’t recognize the ICC’s authority any more than Russia does! I know diplomacy requires large doses of hypocrisy. But given that Russian complaints about illegal US military actions in Serbia/Kosovo (1999) and Iraq, and very well-known war crimes by the US in Iraqand Guantanamo, this will sound to audiences in Europe and the so-called Global South like major arrogance. (Not that this is anything new coming from the US.)
What is the US game on this? Is it the official goal of the Biden-Harris Administration to remove Putin as the Russian leader? Is the US going to join the Rome Statute to recognize the ICC’s authority over US actions? (We already know that the answer in 99% certain to be, “No.” But Congress and the public really should be asking.) Is the US Government going to help the ICC - whose authority it does not recognize - to gather evidence to prosecute Putin as the head of another government that also does not recognize its authority?
What is the priority US war aim in the current Ukraine war?
It was in April of 2022 that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stated two clear US aims in the conflict:
“We want to see Ukraine remain a sovereign country, a democratic country able to protect its sovereign territory. We want to see Russia weakened to the point where it can’t do things like invade Ukraine.”
Those two goals - restoring Ukrainian sovereignty over its territory and weakening Russia have been compatible so far. But those are different goals and priorities. At some point, Ukraine and Russia will be ready for negotiations to end the war. Will the US block such negotiations in order to prolong the conflict and the damage to Russia? Even if that means - as it surely would - even further death and damage in Ukraine?
Those are also questions Congress should be asking the Biden Administration in public hearings.
One public figure who was an outspoken neocon hawk on the Iraq War - David “Bobo” Brooks - recently addressed DeSantis’ criticism of the current war: “I'd say to Ron DeSantis, we're spending a few tens of billion dollars. We have already destroyed half the Russian military. Like, what could be a better investment than that?”
Is that the priority “investment” for the US in this conflict? As opposed to, say, “investing” in reconstructing a postwar Ukraine? (The answer is probably, "Yes.” The US will expect the EU countries to pay for most of whatever Western reconstruction aid goes to Ukraine.)
Did the US really blow up the Nord Stream pipelines?
Seymour Hersh’s reporting on the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines need to be vetted by Congress in formal hearings.Because if the US actually did this, it's a questionable use of Presidential power with serious risks involved. And it would be most likely an action directed more at limiting the options of the EU in general, and of Germany in particular, more than at Russia.
Seymour Hersh recently did another interview, this one with Chris Hedges, on the Nord Stream pipelines bombing in the context of the current war.Hersh and Hedges both have been reporting on wars for a long time, so some of their comments may sound a bit jaded. Hersh broke the Abu Ghraib torture scandal in 2004 for the New Yorker.
Al Jazeera Staff (2023): US Republican DeSantis calls Ukraine war a ‘territorial dispute’. Aljazeera 03/14/2023. <https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/3/14/us-republican-desantis-calls-ukraine-war-a-territorial-dispute> (Accessed: 18-03-2023).
Samuels, Brett (2023): Biden: International Criminal Court ‘justified’ in issuing arrest warrant for Putin. The Hill 03/17/2023. <https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/3906112-biden-international-criminal-court-justified-in-issuing-arrest-warrant-for-putin/> (Accessed: 18-03-2023).
Swain, Elise (2023): Iraqis Tortured by the U.S. in Abu Ghraib Never Got Justice. The Intercept 03/17/2023. <https://theintercept.com/2023/03/17/iraq-war-torture-abu-ghraib/> (Accessed: 18-03-2023).
Savage, Charlie (2023): Pentagon Blocks Sharing Evidence of Possible Russian War Crimes With Hague Court. New York Times 03/08/2023. <https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/08/us/politics/pentagon-war-crimes-hague.html> (Accessed: 2023-12-03).
Sabbagh, Dan & Livingstone, Helen (2022): US pledges extra $713m for Ukraine war effort and to weaken Russia. In: Guardian 04/25/2022. <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/25/us-diplomats-to-return-to-ukraine-and-fresh-military-aid-unveiled-after-blinken-visit> (Accessed 2022-21-12).
Brooks and Capehart on the turmoil in the banking sector. PBS Newshour website 03/17/2023. <https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/brooks-and-capehart-on-the-turmoil-in-the-banking-sector> (Accessed 2022-21-12).
Hersh, Seymour (2023): How America Took Out The Nord Stream Pipeline. Substack 02.08.2023. (Accessed 2023-09-02).
How America destroyed the Nord Stream pipelines w/Seymour Hersh | The Chris Hedges Report. The Real News Network YouTube channel 03/17/2023. (Accessed 2023-17-03).
Hersh, Seymour (2004): Torture at Abu Ghraib. <https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/05/10/torture-at-abu-ghraib> (Accessed 2023-17-03).