When Peace Fails, Blame the Staff

Conflict DC Politics Ideas and Issues Personal Writings

            New Orleans     When I saw the headline, I cringed.  I knew trouble was coming.  What were they thinking?!?

House Speaker wannabe, Kevin McCarthy, had only weeks earlier caught a bit of heat hinting that if Republicans took control of Congress the virtually unanimous support for the Ukrainian efforts to resist the Russian invasion would be over, and the blank check that the US has written for their defense would start bouncing.  Who in the world wants to be on his side, I thought.  The popular support in the US for Ukraine has been amazing, why would he throw shade on their heroic efforts?  What was he thinking?

Now, there was a letter, signed by thirty liberal and progressive Democrats, written to President Biden, urging direct negotiations with Russia over a ceasefire?  The letter waved a hand at Ukraine’s sovereignty, but there was no question they were suggesting direct and back-channel discussions with Russia separate and apart from any that the Ukrainian government might be having.  The Biden administration came back immediately, saying “We’ve been very clear: nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.”  That’s a tongue-lashing.  That’s school teacher’s ruler hitting your knuckles.  What were they thinking?

I’m a huge fan of Congresswoman Pamila Jayapal, who heads the Progressive Caucus in Congress.  I’ve known her since she ran a pro-immigration group based in Seattle.  I know her husband, the former head of the Seattle central labor council.  They’re on my Facebook friends list.  In my estimation she’s done an amazing job with this caucus and keeping them together, even when compromises were necessary and must have been difficult.  For sure, the caucus believes in peace, not war, as we all must, and most of us do.  It’s never wrong to call for peace and an end to war without any worries about whether a war is just or not, because an end to killing is always the preferred path for progress.  Nonetheless, why would these Congressional representatives of all people, argue for a USA big stick, go mano-mano with Russia at all, and especially separate from Ukraine?

Jayapal has now retracted the letter as moderates, liberals, and just about everyone couldn’t understand what they might have been thinking.  The Republicans are undoubtedly doing a happy dance over this kerfuffle within days of the midterm elections.  The timing was terrible.  The content allowed big-stick American diplomacy to drown out legitimate interest in peace and a ceasefire.  Jayapal essentially blames it all on “staff” claiming they released the letter without proper vetting.

Hmmm.  It doesn’t add up.  The letter seems to have been hanging around since early summer and now it’s released in the fall.  You don’t get thirty representatives to sign a lunch order without all of them vetting and having their say.  You don’t manage to work in a Congressional office in comms at this level and not get an OK from the boss before you release a letter to Joe Shmoo back home, much less a press release in DC.  Furthermore, when you’re asking for the USA to back-channel with Russia, did a bunch of Democrats release a letter about foreign policy, much less an active, shooting war, without contacting someone in the administration or calling someone in the chief of staff’s office and telling them it was coming?  It’s all too much to believe.

This is out of my lane, but times are hard and the future might even look bleaker.  We need the best we can get out of the Progressive Caucus, and we need it to grow stronger and more powerful under Representative Jayapal.  They have to do better than this.  Simply blaming the staff is lame.  Hopefully, they are having very serious conversations about how they could have stepped in this mess so badly, so it never happens again.