The letter — a tale of “progressive” cowardice

We write with appreciation for your commitment to Ukraine’s legitimate struggle against Russia’s war of aggression. Your support for the self-defense of an independent, sovereign, and democratic state has been supported by Congress, including through various appropriations of military, economic and humanitarian aid in furtherance of this cause. Your administration’s policy was critical to enable the Ukrainian people, through their courageous fighting and heroic sacrifices, to deal a historic military defeat to Russia, forcing Russia to dramatically scale back the stated goals of the invasion.

Crucially, you achieved this while also maintaining that it is imperative to avoid direct military conflict with Russia, which would lead to “World War III, something we must strive to prevent.” The risk of nuclear weapons being used has been estimated to be higher now than at any time since the height of the Cold War. Given the catastrophic possibilities of nuclear escalation and miscalculation, which only increase the longer this war continues, we agree with your goal of avoiding direct military conflict as an overriding national-security priority.

So begins the sycophantic appeal from the Congressional Progressive Caucus to President Joe Biden. Signed by Pramila Jayapal, Earl Blumenauer, Cori Bush, Jesús G. “Chuy” García, Raúl M. Grijalva, Sara Jacobs, Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Sheila Jackson Lee, Mark Pocan, Nydia M. Velázquez, Gwen S. Moore, Yvette D. Clarke, Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr., Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mondaire Jones, Peter A. DeFazio, Jamaal Bowman, Marie Newman, Alma S. Adams, Chellie Pingree, Jamie Raskin, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Mark Takano, André Carson, Donald M. Payne, Jr., and Mark DeSaulnier.

A day after the letter was posted, in what I conisder to be a collective act of moral cowardice, it was withdrawn with Chair Jayapal saying the letter was “released without vetting.”

Dear reader, so you needn’t click search, here is the rest of the letter with a few of my own boldfaced emphases, after which I have a thing or two to say:

Given the destruction created by this war for Ukraine and the world, as well as the risk of catastrophic escalation, we also believe it is in the interests of Ukraine, the United States, and the world to avoid a prolonged conflict. For this reason, we urge you to pair the military and economic support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire. This is consistent with your recognition that “there’s going to have to be a negotiated settlement here,” and your concern that Vladimir Putin “doesn’t have a way out right now, and I’m trying to figure out what we do about that.”

We are under no illusions regarding the difficulties involved in engaging Russia given its outrageous and illegal invasion of Ukraine and its decision to make additional illegal annexations of Ukrainian territory. However, if there is a way to end the war while preserving a free and independent Ukraine, it is America’s responsibility to pursue every diplomatic avenue to support such a solution that is acceptable to the people of Ukraine. Such a framework would presumably include incentives to end hostilities, including some form of sanctions relief, and bring together the international community to establish security guarantees for a free and independent Ukraine that are acceptable for all parties, particularly Ukrainians. The alternative to diplomacy is protracted war, with both its attendant certainties and catastrophic and unknowable risks.

Russia’s invasion has caused incalculable harm for the people of Ukraine, leading to the deaths of countless thousands of civilians, Ukrainian soldiers, and displacement of 13 million people, while Russia’s recent seizure of cities in Ukraine’s east have led to the most pivotal moment in the conflict and the consolidation of Russian control over roughly 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory. The conflict threatens an additional tens of millions more worldwide, as skyrocketing prices in wheat, fertilizer and fuel spark acute crises in global hunger and poverty. A war that is allowed to grind on for years — potentially escalating in intensity and geographic scope — threatens to displace, kill, and immiserate far more Ukrainians while causing hunger, poverty, and death around the world. The conflict has also contributed to elevated gas and food prices at home, fueling inflation and high oil prices for Americans in recent months. Economists believe that if the situation in Ukraine is stabilized, some of the speculative concerns driving higher fuel costs will subside and likely lead to a drop in world oil prices.

We agree with the Administration’s perspective that it is not America’s place to pressure Ukraine’s government regarding sovereign decisions, and with the principle you have enunciated that there should be “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.” But as legislators responsible for the expenditure of tens of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in military assistance in the conflict, we believe such involvement in this war also creates a responsibility for the United States to seriously explore all possible avenues, including direct engagement with Russia, to reduce harm and support Ukraine in achieving a peaceful settlement.

In May, President Zelensky, despite deadlocked negotiations, reiterated that the war “will only definitively end through diplomacy,” and had previously explained that “any mentally healthy person always chooses the diplomatic path, because he or she knows: even if it is difficult, it can prevent the loss of thousands, tens of thousands…and maybe even millions of lives.”

In conclusion, we urge you to make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire, engage in direct talks with Russia, explore prospects for a new European security arrangement acceptable to all parties that will allow for a sovereign and independent Ukraine, and, in coordination with our Ukrainian partners, seek a rapid end to the conflict and reiterate this goal as America’s chief priority.

Even Bernie Sanders denounced the letter, himself captured in the echo chamber of the Congressional-media-arms-industry-complex, Cruise missile liberalism, and American exceptionalism.

I’ve no idea what went on behind closed doors to compose this letter, or to rescind it. As the old saying goes, “a camel is a horse built by a committee.” I’ve no idea if there was any dissent among the “progressives” about its ignominious withdrawal. But we know the tree by its fruits, and we know character, at times, from silence.

We could rehash the history that led to this war. Everyone from Democratic Russophobes, to foreign policy realists, to Trump cultists, to brain-dead tankies would have plenty to say about all this; and, of course, each group starts the history at a different place, and narrates it in support of its own predetermined position. Yes, it was avoidable; and yes, the US had a big hand in pushing things to where they are now. NATO should have been dissolved in 1990, but the arms industry and America’s imperium weren’t having it. And yet here we are, with the fait accompli of the ever-present present, where an appeal to prevent nuclear war has to be buried in hypocritical appeals to American moral responsibility and oil prices to make the medicine go down.

I hear plenty about “woke mobs” on the internet these days — so much so that this “woke mob” tactic is rapidly losing its efficacy as a mechanism of distributive social control by having generated its own justified backlash. But apparently, the same dynamic is alive and well when it comes to this latest American adventure in proxy war. Bernie Sanders’ former press secretary Briahna Joy Gray — a self-declared “progressive” — was subjected to a storm of online abuse recently, much of it from fellow “progressives,” for criticizing the withdrawal of “the letter.” One of the milder insults was that she is a “subhuman fascist.”

Anyone who’s kept up with my own writing knows I hate the term “progressive,” I consider “progress” a dangerous myth, and I have fundamental metaphysical disagreements with liberals, liberalism, and with the left (from which I am a kind of refugee). But where I have continued to find myself in concord with progressives and leftists is in my opposition to American militarism. This is why this latest and cowardly retreat constitutes a kind of last straw for me.

I remember the days and weeks following the September 11, 2001 attacks, when no member of Congress, with the exception of Barbara Lee (a signatory to the above — speak up, Barbara!), stood against a military escalation in Afghanistan. The American public was like a huge flock of guinea fowl being herded by the media like it was their border collie. All dissent, and any questions, were shut down. I and a few colleagues who spoke against the invasion of Afghanistan were put on an enemies list constructed by Lynn Cheney, wife of the war-happy Vice President. People were afraid not to display American flags in front of their houses.

Many younger readers may not remember those times; but the history is clear. The attacks — perpetrated mostly by Saudis — were used as a pretext for the serial invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, a disastrous decades-long bloodletting in which the US, its military, and its intelligence services reached down into new depths of moral depravity, “leading to the deaths” (cribbing the letter’s language) of around a million people. The US has no standing to pronounce on the morality of any other world actor — none! It still needs to take the beam out of its own eye.

This war is even more serious. All wars are obscenities, but as I ranted some days back, and as the letter above mentioned in passing, this one has a special potential for stumbling into nuclear Armageddon. Yes, the US is willing to pump more and more arms into Ukraine, and yes, the US is willing to fight to the last Ukrainian; but in addition to this sanguinary willingness, we are apparently also willing to risk . . . well, everything.

The so-called progressives, apparently, aren’t even willing to risk a letter. To hell with you all, I say. To hell with your rhetoric. To hell with your pet proposals. To hell with your moral posturing. Your technocratic visions are worthless, when you can’t even muster the courage to stand up against a war hysteria that could kill us all.

I was never prouder of the left than when elements of it stood against the 9–11 wave of war-lust. A very few people suffered the abuse for that stand, and they were the anchor point, the refuge, for those who passed through those initial indoctrinal stages and eventually came to oppose neoconservative savagery. It doesn’t look like we can count on the same from today’s progressive legislators.



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Stan Goff

Author of the books “Hideous Dream,” “Full Spectrum Disorder,” “Borderline,” “Mammon’s Ecology,” and “Tough Gynes.”