In February 2003, the largest global protest in history took place against the looming US invasion of Iraq which would come a month later. Millions took to the streets and in America those protesters were overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning voters who did not like—and that’s putting it lightly—President George W. Bush and his war threats. To contrast, almost the entire Republican Party and its base fell in line behind Dubya and dutifully supported the president’s war.
Needless to say, things have changed.
While GOP leadership today and the majority of congressional members are still firmly in the old Bush-Cheney foreign policy mold, the Republican base and a sizable portion of representatives have become some of the most forceful critics of the Biden administration’s policies in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
On Thursday, Breitbart reported that two Republicans, Congressman Warren Davidson and Senator Mike Lee, were introducing companion bills that would compel the president to define America’s “proxy war” strategy in Ukraine in order to avoid “endless war.”
“The Ukraine proxy war is the Washington war hawk regime’s latest obsession,” Davidson told Breitbart. “The Biden administration’s ‘as long as it takes’ approach is not a substitute for a clear strategy. It’s our responsibility to demand a defined mission on behalf of the American people and get concrete answers to avoid endless war.”
Lee said, “The Biden administration’s ‘as long as it takes’ approach to Ukraine is unacceptable, and frankly, not a strategy.”
“Before we spend another penny on Ukraine, the administration owes Congress and the American people a plan of action,” Lee added. “This bill requires the Biden administration to put pen to paper and define our goal in Ukraine.”
Among the 31 Republican co-sponsors of the bill were some of the most conservative and libertarian House members, including Thomas Massie, Dan Bishop, Matt Gaetz and others.
Last week, Republicans Senators Rand Paul and JD Vance along with Congressman Chip Roy came together to reject the US’s role in an “indefinite war” in Ukraine. The trio said in a letter to the White House, “Your request cites President Biden’s pledge that ‘we will stand with Ukraine as it defends its sovereignty for as long as it takes’ … These statements imply an open-ended commitment to supporting the war in Ukraine of an indeterminate nature, based on a strategy that is unclear, to achieve a goal yet to be articulated to the public or the Congress.”
Paul, Vance and Roy had 26 co-sponsors like conservatives Sen. Lee, Reps. Davidson, Byron Donalds, Jeff Duncan, Andy Biggs and others.
A CBS News poll this month showed that Republican voters were the most averse to the US continuing to aid Ukraine and Democrats were more willing to stay the course.
“Overall, most Republicans — and four in 10 independents — think the Biden administration should be doing less to help Ukraine in its conflict with Russia,” CBS News reported. “Most Democrats think the administration is handling things about as they should be.”
On Thursday night, Rep. Massie noted that Democrats—unanimously—voted to keep US military funding linked to Ukraine spending.
To my knowledge, no Democratic member of Congress has questioned US policy toward Ukraine in the same manner Republicans have throughout the conflict…
…with one glaring exception.
In October 2022, Democratic members of Congress’s Progressive Caucus sent a letter to the White House that echoed the sentiments of many Republican critics of US-Ukraine policies. These Democrats expressed concerns about war that would have been commonplace in their party when the mass street protests occurred two decades ago.
The Washington Post reported in October 2022, “A group of 30 House liberals is urging President Biden to dramatically shift his strategy on the Ukraine war and pursue direct negotiations with Russia, the first time prominent members of his own party have pushed him to change his approach to Ukraine.”
This group included some of the most left-leaning members of the House like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Sheila Jackson Lee and Ro Khanna.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal led the letter, asking Biden to “pair the unprecedented economic and military support the United States is providing Ukraine with a ‘proactive diplomatic push,’ redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire.”
“The alternative to diplomacy is protracted war, with both its attendant certainties and catastrophic and unknowable risks,” the letter added.
In less than 24 hours, the Progressive Caucus retracted their letter.
They seemed embarrassed they had even tried to take an antiwar stance regarding Ukraine in today’s Democratic party.
There’s a noticeable switch in the parties. Somewhere between the Tea Party movement over a decade ago, the popular antiwar presidential campaigns of Republican Ron Paul, and the political emergence of Donald Trump in 2015, who broke the mold on the old neoconservative GOP foreign policy consensus, something happened to the GOP and its base.
Something has happened to Democrats too. As Los Angeles Times’ columnist Nicholas Goldberg observed in March, “Once upon a time, the roles were reversed.
Democrats were, if anything, skeptical of foreign intervention. Many, especially in the liberal and progressive wings of the party, saw war as inhumane, policing the world as folly and the Pentagon as bloated…
“Republicans, on the other hand, were more unabashedly hawkish — willing to flex U.S. military muscle and project power in support of an American-led world order,” Goldberg observed.
That’s certainly the political world many of us grew up in. That was certainly still the primary political division in the US regarding foreign policy in 2003.
It is not the divide today.