A Sane Leftist Position on Russia-Ukraine

A Sane Leftist Position on Russia-Ukraine
Wikimedia Commons, photo by Matt Hrkac from Geelong / Melbourne, Australia

I have research just out on left-progressive strategies of worldmaking. I promise I'll write about it another day. What I want to do here is quickly draw some quotes from that research that explain what ought to be done in Ukraine.

Why this, why now? Because the Congressional Progressive Caucus just issued a very good but bland/non-specific letter to President Biden calling for diplomacy with Russia. It's getting dragged by all the people you'd expect (Ukraine-flag twitter, fire-breathing end-of-history primacists, neocons who've never served in the military). But it's also getting criticism from some sympathetic corners too.

So here's what my research has to say about left-progressive policies on Ukraine. I think our operating position needs to be one that:

at once opposes Putin’s imperialism, takes a least- harm commitment seriously and avoids reifying the “framework of moral innocence” that underwrites American militarism.

What does that look like? Well, the most urgent priority is nukes. We have to do more than we're currently doing to managing nuclear risk. I'm very worried about that. Nuclear-capable bomber deployments and military exercises in the context of the current moment are not justifiable given both the crisis stability risks and the lack of upside. The deterrence case for signaling is thin/borderline nonsensical, and as leftists and progressives we have a commitment to an approach that does the least harm.

Beyond nukes though, the other aspects of policy that need to be taken seriously include:

immediate forgiveness of Ukrainian sovereign debt, support for the Ukrainian military sufficient to ensure Russian forces do not make territorial gains, an accelerated shift away from a fossil fuel-based economy, and a crash program of massive aid for the billion-plus people around the globe exposed to growing levels of food and energy insecurity due to scarcities the war has imposed on them. Longer term, it might also necessitate a serious bid to explore a future for European security that neither accepts some of its members’ increasingly flagrant authoritarianism nor stokes insecurity competitions with Russia; such a future almost certainly needs to look beyond NATO and the unique historical conjuncture that produced American primacy for a time.

Why does this unique configuration of policies make sense? Because...

Combining emergency and long-run horizons...pulls the best of the... progressive perspectives while managing the risks of each.

I know there are leftists who don't like the label "progressive." I know there are liberals who like to identify as "progressive" but are basically just primacists or liberal imperialists. I have answers to all of that, and will explain at some point. Right now, I just want to stress that if you're going to bring demands to policymakers--especially the president--you've got to be specific, you've got to have a theory of the case, and you've got to contrast your prescriptions with the alternative of just doing what we're already doing.

Does the Congressional Progressive Caucus letter meet that standard? Not really. "Diplomacy" is not a prescription, much as I agree with it. And there wasn't much of a theory of stability in the letter either. I'm glad they sent it. I think the letter's fine (I played no part in it, for whatever that's worth). But it's not changing any minds.