The US is Making a Diplomatic Solution Difficult in Ukraine

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 22: U.S. President Joe Biden (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

Washington is abuzz over the question of who leaked the Supreme Court draft overturning Roe v. Wade. I am far more interested in who were the unnamed officials who boasted to The New York Times and Washington Post about the United States’ success in helping Ukraine kill Russian generals and sink that warship. These boasts are beyond impolitic.

The Biden administration has denounced yesterday’s New York Times’ headline that read “U.S. Intelligence is Helping Ukraine Kill Russian Generals, Officials Say.” “The headline of the story is misleading and the way it is framed is irresponsible,” a National Security Council spokesman declared. But if you read the story, the unnamed officials tell of informing the Ukrainians of changes in the location of Russian mobile headquarters. That sounds to me like helping Ukraine pinpoint where the generals are.

This morning, the Washington Post headlines, “U.S. provided intelligence that helped Ukraine sink Russian warship.” Once again, the headline seems to be borne out by the story. These stories transform the war in Ukraine from one between a brave and embattled Ukraine trying to repel a Russian invasion to a story about the U.S. aiding Ukraine in order, in the words of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, to “weaken” the Russian army. They bear out Russian charges that they are fighting a proxy war.

I support our helping the Ukrainians repel the Russian invasion — through giving them arms and quietly providing them with intelligence. But I believe these efforts have to be accompanied by an attempt to achieve a ceasefire and negotiated agreement to end the war. There is no other favorable outcome that I can see. 

If the war continues to drag on, Ukraine will be destroyed. Millions killed, still more millions displaced and scattered in European countries that will eventually prove inhospitable. If the Ukrainians were actually to win, as they and administration officials have hoped, and if the Russians were driven out of the East and Crimea, I fear it would inspire within Russia a leader and movement that would make Vladimir Putin and his ilk look like Quakers. And we are dealing with a nuclear-armed military.

It is very important, therefore, that the United States and NATO, while aiding the Ukrainians, keep open the possibility of encouraging negotiations. That’s the realm of diplomacy. But these kind of statements aired in our national press could provoke the Russians into escalating the war. They could also convince the various non-aligned parties in Asia, Africa, and Latin America that the war is really between the United States and Russia and not a Russian war of conquest. And at the least, they could set back any chance of negotiating an end to the war.

I have no idea who is making these statements to the press. But it seems to me there are three possible explanations, none of which reflect well on the Biden administration. First, they could be made by White House officials who believe that publicizing the administration’s role in fighting Russia could enhance Biden and the Democrats’ flagging political prospects in November. Second, they could be made by hawks within the administration who want to rule out a negotiated end to the conflict. Third, they could come from military or intelligence officials who want to toot their horn. They bespeak at the very least a lack of discipline within the administration. At the worst, they suggest a disastrous strategic blunder.

Latest Editors' Blog
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: