The Russia-Ukraine war has become, for much of the world, “the other war.” Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent invasion of Gaza have captured global attention, not least in Washington.
The latest war between Hamas and Israel has vast ramifications for Palestinians, Israelis, and the broader Middle East. But the United States also has huge stakes in the course and outcome of the conflict. The U.S. has long been Israel’s chief international patron, offering military and diplomatic support. Moreover, it has been deeply involved, over the course of decades, in efforts to broker an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. These efforts have largely failed; even before Oct. 7, the peace process had long been moribund. In addition, possible action by Hamas’ allies — Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and, above all, Iran — could plunge the United States directly into a regional conflict.
Shifting US Attention Comes at a Difficult Moment for Kyiv
Just weeks before the conflict erupted, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan declared the Middle East “quieter than it has been for decades.” Now, the Middle East teeters at the threshold of general war, and the war in Ukraine is no longer the overwhelming focus of U.S. foreign policy. While the United States is capable of conducting foreign policy across a wide scope of issues, the attention of senior policymakers can become severely constrained, especially in times of crisis. Right now, that attention is dominated by the Israel-Hamas war.
This occurs at a very difficult moment for Kyiv. Its much-awaited counteroffensive appears to have lost momentum after minimal territorial gains. Ukrainian casualties are unknown, but surely substantial. The past several months have not been without victories for Kyiv, however; the Ukrainian military has taken the war to the Russian navy, striking both vessels and headquarters. Russia has also experienced substantial losses of personnel and equipment. Its counterpunch near the city of Adviivka in the Donetsk region has to date been a costly failure.
With winter approaching, the war appears to be settling into an ugly stalemate. The high hopes of early summer have faded. Ukraine is bracing for another year of war.
The longer the war continues, the greater the chance of war weariness setting in. So far, the Ukrainian government and people seem committed to carrying on the struggle; substantial parts of Ukraine, after all, remain in Russian hands. Even Ukraine’s international supporters appear to be holding the line — for now. But we can expect that support to weaken with the passage of time. And we can expect calls for peace talks with Russia to rise.
Russia may have failed utterly in its initial war aim: to quickly decapitate the Ukrainian government and replace it with a Russian puppet. But the loss of the Ukrainian territory Russia currently occupies would be an even a greater blow to Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin. By contrast, any agreement that allowed Russia to retain these areas would mark a minor success for Moscow and a disappointing outcome for Kyiv.
Can Republicans Be Counted on to Support Further Aid to Ukraine?
Ukraine’s most powerful international backer is, of course, the United States. And funding for further armaments for Ukraine has become deeply enmeshed in U.S. politics. Most Democrats, following the lead of President Joe Biden, remain strong supporters of Ukraine’s cause. Republicans, by contrast, are a mixed bag. While Republican senators can, with a few exceptions, be counted on to support further aid to Ukraine, House Republicans possess a sizeable minority of members prepared to vote against aid to Kyiv. Given the absolute chaos reigning among House Republicans — who have embarrassed themselves repeatedly in their recent efforts to elect and keep a speaker — just a handful of them can delay and even scuttle aid for Ukraine.
Why so many Republicans oppose aid to Ukraine is a complicated question. Part of the answer is surely political expediency. Republicans are exercised about what they consider an “invasion” of migrants across our southern border, allowed in by the Biden administration. Opposing aid to Ukraine allows Republican to highlight what they consider hypocrisy by the Democrats, who, according to the Republican argument, want to defend Ukraine from invasion but refuse to defend their own country. Some Republicans also apparently have a strange affinity for Russia. This is most notable in the case of former President Donald Trump, who clearly admires Putin.
This Republican ambiguity does not reflect traditional isolations. Most Republicans are very vocal about the need to support Israel. Many of them support military action against Mexican drug cartels. And, with very few exceptions, Republicans are for taking a very tough line with China in East Asia. Aid to Ukraine is very much an exception.
Whatever the reasons, uncertain Republican support for Ukraine represents a clear threat — both in the short and long terms — to Kyiv.
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