An open letter released Wednesday signed by more than 100 veterans of the George W. Bush and Donald Trump administrations, ex-military officers, and former Republican lawmakers and activists called for fellow conservatives and congressional Republicans to support increased military aid to Ukraine and criticized President Biden for “seem[ing] more concerned about the prospects of a Russian defeat than of a Russian victory.”
The letter, initiated by the “nonpartisan” Vandenberg Coalition, a “network” of hawkish foreign policy think tankers and former officials convened by long-time neo-conservative Elliott Abrams, was directed primarily at “conservative” lawmakers and their constituents who have appeared increasingly resistant to providing more aid to Kyiv.
“Abandoning America’s friends while they are falling victim to aggression is a pattern associated with the American left, from Vietnam to Afghanistan,” according to the letter.
“Conservatives should not be rushing to lock arms with progressive isolationists. The security of Asia and of Europe are linked, which is why the elected leaders of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Australia have all sent aid to Ukraine. We support urgent, robust additional American aid to Ukraine,” it concluded.
Published in The National Review, the letter comes in the immediate aftermath of “the House GOP’s decision not to include further funding to support Kyiv and its war effort” in the stopgap government funding bill that was passed last weekend and the ouster of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who had allegedly quietly agreed with the Biden administration to push for additional funding for Ukraine in the coming weeks.
According to a September 7-18 poll released Tuesday by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll, about 50% of self-identified Republicans nationwide support continued military aid to Ukraine, while 45% or Republican respondents said the aid to date “has not been worth the cost.” Overall, Republican respondents were significantly more skeptical of U.S. support for Ukraine than self-identified Democrats or independents.
The Vandenberg Coalition was created by Abrams — who served as “special representative” for both Venezuela and Iran under Trump and deputy national security adviser with particular responsibility for Middle East policy under Bush — in April, 2021 with the evident intention of reuniting predominantly neoconservative “Never Trumpers” with other hawkish Republicans who had served under or otherwise supported the former president behind a policy of confrontation with Russia, China, Iran, and other perceived U.S. adversaries. The initiative took its name from Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, a conservative Michigan Republican who, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, worked with the Truman administration to gain congressional backing for the Marshall Plan and NATO after World War II.
The Coalition appears to model itself in part on the Project for the New American Century (1997-2006) and its successor, the Foreign Policy Initiative (2009-2017), as a mainly neoconservative network for hawks of various ideological backgrounds, including primacists, aggressive nationalists, such as Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton and prominent leaders of the Christian Right, to exchange information and analysis and publish “open letters” signed by dozens of former senior national security officials, retired military brass, Republican lawmakers, and analysts from various think tanks.
The new Vandenberg letter appears to follow that playbook, although it is directed more at “conservatives” and Republicans rather than a more general audience.
Among the more than 100 signatories, many of whom were identified by their former official positions in the Bush and Trump administrations rather than their past or current non-governmental affiliations, a number of individuals based at several of the same think tanks that played such a prominent role in promoting the Iraq war, including Danielle Pletka, Gary Schmitt, and Michael Rubin at AEI; Clifford May and at FDD, and Kenneth Weinstein at Hudson, not to mention Abrams himself, who is currently based at the Council on Foreign Relations, stood out.
Remarkably, the list also included Randy Scheunemann, who directed the high-powered White House-sponsored Committee for the Liberation of Iraq in the run-up to the war at the same time that he headed a public relations and lobbying firm that promoted Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, a major source of fabricated intelligence and disinformation that the Bush administration used to rally public opinion in favor of the invasion.
In the letter, its signatories stressed the likelihood of disastrous outcomes across the world if Ukraine did not receive more U.S. military assistance and stressed that Kyiv is “not asking for American troops, only American weapons and equipment.”
“Efforts to stop our aid to Ukraine could lead to a Russian battlefield victory, with catastrophic effects for American security,” it warned. “Putin would eye the next stage of the Russian empire’s restoration, and China would have a green light to take Taiwan.”
The Coalition has published two other letters signed by multiple individuals. In February 2022, it published an open letter signed by more than three dozen mainly neoconservative former Bush administration officials and think tankers that called a major Amnesty International report that concluded that Israel was practicing a form of apartheid in its treatment of Palestinians “untruthful, deceptive, and antisemitic.”
In January, it published a letter directed to the “editors, authors, and contributors to major scientific, medical and journalistic publications worldwide” that called for “accountability for those scientific and news publications that actively sought to censor voices investigating the origins of COVID-19.”
The Coalition’s most recent letter and its focus on “conservative” reservations about supporting Ukraine recalls to some extent a 1996 Foreign Affairs article, “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,” by leading neoconservatives William Kristol and Robert Kagan who were concerned that conservatives would be unable to “resist the combined assault of [then-presidential candidate Pat] Buchanan’s ‘isolationism of the heart” and the Republican budget hawks on Capitol Hill.” The article argued in favor of a U.S. foreign policy designed to maintain a “benevolent global hegemony.”
One year later, the two authors jointly founded PNAC with a Statement of Principles signed by, among others, key architects of the Iraq invasion and its aftermath, including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Abrams.
Jim Lobe is a Contributing Editor of Responsible Statecraft. He formerly served as chief of the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service from 1980 to 1985 and again from 1989 to 2015.
Photo Credit: New York, NY - February 28, 2019: US envoy on Venezuela Elliott Abrams speaks to media after UN Security Council meeting on situation in Venezuela at UN Headquarters (Photo: lev radin via shutterstock.com)
DOHA, QATAR — In remarks Sunday at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov seemed to revel in what is becoming a groundswell of international frustration with the United States over its policies in Israel. Despite Russia’s own near-isolated status after its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Lavrov glibly characterized the U.S. as on the wrong side of history, the leader of the dying world order, and the purveyor of its own brand of “cancel culture.”
“I think everybody understands that this (Gaza war) did not happen in a vacuum that there were decades of unfulfilled promises that the Palestinians would get their own state,” and years of political and security hostilities that exploded on Oct. 7, he charged. “This is about the cancel culture, whatever you don’t like about events that led to the current situation you cancel. Everything that came before February 2022, including the bloody coup (in Ukraine) and the unconstitutional change of power … all this was canceled. The only thing that remains is that Russia invaded Ukraine.”
Lavrov, beamed in from Russia to the international audience in Doha, went fairly unchallenged, though his interviewer James Bays, diplomatic editor at Al Jazeera, attempted to corner him on accusations stemming from Russia’s own bloody record in Chechnya in the 1990s and and 2000s and its ongoing military campaign in Syria, which Lavrov noted was at the “behest” of the Syrian government.
On the issue of the failed ceasefire vote at the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent veto member, Lavrov said, “we strongly condemn the terrorist attack against Israel. At the same time we do not think it is acceptable to use this (terrorist) event for collective punishment of millions of Palestinian people.” Did he condemn the United States for vetoing the ceasefire measure? “It’s up to the regional countries and the other countries of the world to judge,” he declared.
When asked if there was a “stalemate” in the Russian war in Ukraine, and what the Russians may have gained from their invasion in 2022, he said simply, “it’s up to the Ukrainians to understand how deep a hole they are in and where the Americans have put them.”
On whether a ceasefire may be in the offing in that war Lavrov said, “a year and half ago (Zelensky) signed a decree prohibiting any negotiations with the Putin government. They had the chance in March and April 2022, very soon after the beginning of the special military operation, where in Istanbul the negotiators reached a deal with neutrality for Ukraine, no NATO, and security guarantees…it was canceled,” he added, because the Americans and Brits wanted to “exhaust (Ukrainians) more.”
Lavrov gleefully piggybacked on themes from an earlier forum panel on the Global South. He accused “the United States and its allies” of building “the model of globalization, which they thought would serve them well.” But now, Lavrov contends, the unaligned are using “the principles and instruments of globalization to beat the West on their own terms.” As for Russia, Lavrov deployed a little “cancel culture” of his own, cherry picking the high points of his country's history over the last 200 years to project a nation that he boasts will emerge unscathed by Western assaults today.
“In the beginning of the 19th century Napoleon (rose European armies) against Russia and we defeated him; in the 20th century Hitler did the same. We defeated him and became stronger after that as well,” he said. With the Ukraine war, the West will find “that Russia has already become much stronger than it was before this.”
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks in opening session of the Doha Forum in Qatar, December 10. (vlahos)
DOHA, QATAR — The U.S. veto of the UN Security Council vote for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza is being met with widespread anger and frustration by the international community and especially in the Arab world, as reflected in opening remarks at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar on Sunday.
Addressing the forum, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the vote was “regrettable…that does not make it less necessary. I can promise that I will not give up.” He said since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel and the ensuing Israeli retaliation in Gaza, “the Council’s authority and credibility were seriously undermined” by a succession of failed votes to respond to ongoing civilian carnage on the Strip.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, foreign minister of Qatar, said the current crisis and the U.S. reaction to it, including its thwarting of the ceasefire call (it was the only vote of disapproval; the UK abstained) was exposing the “great gap between East and West ... and double standards in the international community.” He pointed to those drawing attention to war crimes in “other contexts” (no doubt referring to Russia in Ukraine ) “hesitating to call for the end of these crimes in the Gaza strip.”
He repeatedly called for the creation of new multipolar world order that "respects justice and equality between the people where no people are more powerful than the other."
The U.S. said it did not approve the ceasefire resolution Friday because of the lack of condemnation of Hamas in the language, and that it not include a declaration of Israel’s right to defend itself. U.S. ambassador Robert Wood said halting Israel’s military action would “only plant the seeds for the next war.”
The result is that people here at the forum say they are more convinced than ever that U.S. policy is reflexively and intimately intertwined with Israel's activities in Gaza. As Mohammad Shtayyeh, prime minister of Palestine, charged, Washington has given the “greenest of green lights” to what Israel is doing on the ground. This was exacerbated this weekend with news that the Biden Administration is bypassing Congressional review to send 13,000 tank rounds to Israel. This, despite efforts by Democrats in his own party to condition the transfer of offensive weapons to prevent their use against civilians.
Meanwhile, humanitarian advocates repeatedly called the situation on the ground “unprecedented.” In an interview with Al Jazeera reporter Stefanie Dekker on the dais, Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said his own organization is “on the brink of collapse.” They have lost 134 relief workers in Gaza since Israeli operations began. He described staff in silent stupefaction over the loss of homes, families. “There is no doubt a ceasefire is needed; we want to put an end to hell on earth right now in Gaza.”
Khaled Saffuri, executive director of the National Interest Foundation in Washington, told RS he was struck by the backlash against American brands in his own travels in Kuwait and Qatar over the last week, citing customer and restaurant boycotts of Coke, Pepsi, MacDonald’s, and Starbucks. “It’s horrible,” he said of the lopsided UN vote. “America is losing a lot in the Muslim world.”
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Journalists in the press room watch as Republican presidential candidate and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and fellow candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy discuss an issue during the fourth Republican candidates' debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign hosted by NewsNation at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, U.S., December 6, 2023. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer
It's as if the Ukraine War has all but ended — at least for American politics.
If the Republican debates had occurred last year, they would have been consumed with talk over whether Vladimir Putin was readying to roll across Europe and how weak President Biden was for not giving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky our best tanks, our most powerful fighter aircraft, the longest range missiles we had — maybe even access to nukes.
But Zelensky wasn’t anywhere near the debate stage in Alabama last night, his name not even invoked. Fitting, we guess, since the Senate failed to pass an aid package yesterday that would have sent another $60 billion to Ukraine. This, despite administration claims that the war effort is literally running out of money. Biden even took to the airwaves Wednesday to warn of a NATO war if the funding wasn’t approved.
Republicans have been souring on the aid for months now, which might account for Ukraine’s diminished importance in the conversation. It was outweighed last night by the conflict in Israel, which in itself only drew three questions: Do we send in special forces to get the eight remaining American hostages back from Hamas? What kind of punishment could be slapped on university presidents who allow “pro Hamas” protests on campus? And how do we “get” Iran for purportedly being behind it all?
Ukraine was wielded, albeit briefly, as a blunt instrument. At the very least it gave us the tiniest of glimpses into the competing world views of the hawks on the dais (Chris Christie and Nikki Haley) and their chief agitant, Vivek Ramaswamy.
Haley raised the issue (without being asked about it) by fitting it into her usual stream of Domino Theory conciousness:
“The problem is, you have to see that all of these are related. If you look at the fact Russia was losing that war with Ukraine, Putin had hit rock bottom, they had raised the draft age to 65. He was getting drones and missiles — drones from Iran, missiles from North Korea. And so what happened when he hit rock bottom, all of a sudden his other friend, Iran, Hamas goes and invades Israel and butchers those people on Putin's birthday. There is no one happier right now than Putin because all of the attention America had on Ukraine suddenly went to Israel. And that's what they were hoping is going to happen. We need to make sure that we have full clarity, that there is a reason again that Taiwanese want to help Ukrainians because they know if Ukraine wins China won't invade Taiwan. There's a reason the Ukrainians want to help Israelis because they know that if Iran wins, Russia wins. These are all connected. But what wins all of that is a strong America, not a weak America. And that's what Joe Biden has given us.”
Vivek Ramaswamy responds:
“I want to say one thing about that tie to Ukraine. Foreign policy experience is not the same as foreign policy wisdom. I was the first person to say we need a reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. Now a lot of the neocons are quietly coming along to that position with the exceptions of Nikki Haley and Joe Biden, who still support this, what I believe, is pointless war in Ukraine. …One thing that Joe Biden and Nikki Haley have in common is that neither of them could even state for you three provinces in eastern Ukraine that they want to send our troops to actually fight for. … So reject this myth that they've been selling you that somebody had a cup of coffee stint at the UN and then makes eight million bucks after has real foreign policy experience. It takes an outsider to see this through.”
To which Chris Christie retorted:
“Let me just say something here, you know, his (Ramaswamy’s) reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. He made it clear. Give them all the land they've already stolen. Promise Putin you'll never put Ukraine in Russia, and then trust Putin not to have a relationship with China.” (Christie then essentially calls Ramaswamy a liar for suggesting he never said that.)
"These people are lying. These are the same people who told you about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify that invasion didn't know the first thing about it if they send thousands of our sons and daughters to go die. The same people who told you the same in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is still in charge. Twenty years later, seven trillion of our national debt due to these toxic neocons. You can put lipstick on a Dick Cheney, it is still a fascist neocon today."
That was basically it. After $130 billion in U.S. taxpayer money since 2022, most of which we are being told has been spent in Ukraine. After hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians dead and maimed, Ukraine’s economy in such a state that the West has to prop it up, and NATO pledging more troops and weapons it doesn’t even seem to have, the issue was afforded a scant few minutes, and used only in the broadest of ways to pound each other. Gone was even the ghost of the old argument that the free world was at stake or that our obligation to Ukrainians was a moral imperative. It’s been reduced to a political cudgel, which is the first step to being memory holed in Washington. It happened to Iraq and Afghanistan in prior president debates 2012 and 2016.
The gist seems to be, maybe if we ignore it, it will just go away?