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Policy Tradeoffs


I’d like to build out a bit from Erik’s post on Ukraine and the border deal to try to describe where I am right now with respect to the Russia-Ukraine War. The situation at the front is not great, although I think the onset of panic is a bit premature. Anyway, I hate the bullet point things, but:

  • It’s a lot harder to define “victory” in war that it seems, but I have always doubted that Ukraine would recover all the territory lost in 2022, much less from 2014. This means that by some technical definitions Russia will “win” through achieving territorial gains. I’ll add that this does have some political significance as any Russian government that makes peace (including Putin’s) will need to describe some sort of victory in order to make a deal politically plausible.
  • That said, in the real world “victory” is complicated and a sensible argument can be made that a Ukraine that is not forced to disarm and accept Russian domination is a victory based on the worst projections of February 2022. It is also sensible to conclude that Russia will have “lost” in the sense that it is likely to be worse off in military, economic, and demographic terms than it was when it invaded. To offer another example, by almost any metric the United States “won” the Iraq War, yet almost everyone now believes that US long-term interests were not well-served by the conflict.
  • I believe (and this is I think where I depart from Erik a bit) that it is in the interests of the United States to support Ukraine’s war effort whether Ukraine is a) losing, b) winning, or c) stalemated. This isn’t to say I support a “blank check” for Ukraine, simply that the survival and health of a democratic, secure Ukraine is in the interests of the United States. Thus, my support for supplying Ukraine with military equipment is not dependent upon my evaluation of Ukraine’s chances to expel Russia from its territory. I should make clear here that there are values in play; a world in which states are punished for attempting territorial conquest is a better world than the alternative, as is a world in which more people are allowed to live in liberal democratic systems of governance.
  • I am not opposed to an effort to come to a cease-fire, but I do oppose using US aid in a coercive manner to force Ukraine to the table. This effort has all manner of negative downstream effects both for Ukraine and for the West more general. This is incumbent upon my belief that Ukraine’s struggle is fundamentally just and in accordance with long-term US interests. I would not, for example, argue against using US support as a lever to discipline Saudi Arabia or Israel during their wars against Yemen and Gaza.

So where does this leave me with respect to the possibly defunct border-Ukraine deal? With complicated feelings. My pro-immigration beliefs differ in character from those of Erik but not really in outcome; more immigration to the US is good because it makes America a better, stronger, more diverse place to live. I absolutely think that the asylum system is hopelessly broken and that something needs to be done about it, a fact that I wish more liberals would simply admit rather than obfuscating, but since I don’t think fraudulent asylum claims are all that much of a problem (they close the gap between the legal immigration regime we have and the one I’d like) reform isn’t so much of a priority for me. But I also recognize that the border is an extremely divisive issue that generates a lot of cross-cutting political cleavages that are, on balance, pretty bad for the Democratic Party, and as such I strongly suspect that some kind of border action is pretty much inevitable (certainly if Trump wins, probably if Biden wins). Thus, the stakes for the border part of the compromise don’t loom very large for me, while the stakes for Ukraine are quite significant. And that, on balance, pushes me in a different direction that it pushes Erik.

But this is a genuine tradeoff (at least intellectual) and I think that people of good faith can find themselves on either side of the debate. With respect to a ceasefire, I’ll simply add that I think the slogan “No Justice, No Peace” is stupid and counterproductive when activists use it and even more stupid and counterproductive when international statesmen use it. But more on that later.

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