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Progressive 'Restrainers' Join the War Party

Ro Khanna and his ilk have suddenly forgotten that restraint doesn’t stop at the Dnieper.

Senator Blumenthal Discusses His Legislation To End US Arms Sales To Saudi Arabia
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Appearing this week with the redoubtable Briahna Joy Gray on her podcast Bad Faith, Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat and a favorite among progressive foreign policy circles, opined that “if any country invaded now another country, we should have an international coalition that would push it back. And certainly with the great powers…the burden falls more to the United States as another great power.” 

In Khanna’s view, the Biden administration’s engagement with Ukraine has been “judicious.” Indeed he believes it is very much in line with the policy recommended by that ill-fated Congressional Progressive Caucus letter that was issued then cravenly withdrawn last October. 

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In the time back before the Trump bogeyman melted the brains of responsible liberals and progressives, Khanna was one of the few congressmen on either side of the aisle who seemed to understand—and even rarer, made an effort to understand—what was truly unfolding in eastern Ukraine. Back then Khanna even had the courage to speak out against what he called the U.S. government's complicity “in the rehabilitation and spread of Neo-Nazis in Ukraine.” This undoubtedly was thanks to the influence of his chief foreign policy aide at the time, who now heads a pro-restraint advocacy group.

In the time since, it isn’t as though Khanna hasn’t had opportunities to bring aboard experienced foreign policy restrainers to his team; he has. But instead of so doing, he went the usual route: His current chief of staff has ties to the pro-interventionist think tank CNAS.

Say this for Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, at least he feigns ignorance when asked about Ukraine, as when he demurred in a recent BBC interview where he lamely pleaded, “It's not an issue that I've been heavily involved in, but I support what the president is doing."

Although his ignorance may not be entirely feigned. In the run-up to his 2016 campaign, a friend of mine, now sadly deceased, traveled to D.C. to consult with Sanders on economic matters. What was his judgment on the progressive standard bearer? “An idiot.” 

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Today, progressive restrainers have gone wobbly in the knees for Ukraine’s President Zelensky and have fallen hard for this war. Still worse, many progressive restrainers are busy trying to convince themselves and others that the U.S. has a dog in this conflict, a fight that amounts, in the end, to a dispute over borders (a hangover from Boris Yeltsin’s inept bungling of the dissolution of the Union Treaty of 1922) and the mistreatment, by ethnic extremists in Kiev, of the Russophone population in the east and south of the country. 

These alleged “restrainers” have repeatedly downplayed the significant risks of escalation, the tremendous and burdensome economic costs to ourselves and our European allies, and the very real process, now underway, of the global economy's de-dollarization. They have also failed to realize that, thanks in part to President Biden’s refusal to negotiate prior to the Russian invasion of last February, the world has shifted under their feet. 

Far from being united, Europe is deeply divided over the war. Meanwhile, China has just inaugurated a new era of multipolarity with its brokering of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The war has isolated Russia from the West, true. But the West (defined by Europe and the Anglosphere) is now isolated from the rest of the world. This is Halford Mackinder’s nightmare become reality: Thanks, in part, to the contingencies of the war, Russia and China are well along in the process of consolidating their grip over the great “world island” of Eurasia. 

Did it not occur to those who began the process, begun under Obama and sped up under Biden by the very same claque of careerists and climbers, of squeezing Russia into China’s orbit that this had the very real potential to backfire spectacularly?

Nonetheless, a veritable parade of self-described progressive "restrainers" have, as mainstream liberals once did under Trump, made common cause with the most reckless elements in official and unofficial Washington: the neoconservatives and the Clinton-aligned military interventionists. 

When one hears such people say things like “I was against Vietnam and Iraq, I deplore the influence of the military industrial complex and American overreach generally but now we have a moral imperative to defend Ukraine and defeat Russia,” actual advocates of foreign policy restraint should take note and keep in mind that imperishable line from Rushmore: “With friends like you, who needs friends?”