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Ukraine unites Americans like little else


At year’s end, let’s first sweep away the bad news before we get to the good news.

The bad news is that Americans see political extremism as now second only to inflation as the most important issue facing the country, according to FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos polling.

Now the good news. Americans can agree on one thing. 

Most Republicans, Democrats and every other kind of partisan agree the U.S. is right to stand up against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll in October found that 73 percent of Americans — including 81 percent of Democrats and 66 percent of Republicans — favor continued U.S. support for Ukraine against Russia.

This tracks with a poll from the Chicago Council of Foreign Affairs conducted in November. It found 65 percent of Americans support continuing to support Ukraine with arms, 66 percent support continuing economic aid and 75 percent favor continuing sanctions on Russia.

Despite intense political polarization on most issues, Americans are unified on backing Ukraine and for now are willing to make sacrifices.

“One area, however, seems to be far less contentious than the domestic strife we hear so much about, U.S foreign policy,” Jordan Muchnick and Elaine Kamarck wrote for the Brookings Institute website earlier this month.

“While there are of course arguments to be had, the level of vitriol is minuscule by comparison, and polling indicates bipartisan unity on many of the foreign policy issues in the news today.” 

Kamarck and Muchnick also looked beyond Ukraine. On U.S. foreign policy for dealing with China and Iran, they again found relative unity across political lines. 

Support for Ukraine stands as the star guiding us to common ground in this era of polarized U.S. politics. 

Unified support for Ukraine showed signs of fraying in a Wall Street Journal poll released at the start of November, however. 

It found 57 percent of Americans favoring continued funding, but 48 percent of Republicans saying the U.S. is “doing too much.” That was a jump in concern among Republicans from just six percent in a March poll.

When Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to a joint session of Congress last week, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) left their seats empty in a show of dissent.

But they are fringe players even among Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), struggling to get far-right backing to become Speaker, declares his support for Ukraine even as he says he wants accountability for American money sent to Kyiv.

“The most important thing going on in the world is to beat the Russians in Ukraine,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters on the evening of Zelensky’s speech . “And also, it’s nice to have something here at the end of the year that we all actually agree on.”

Yes, strong GOP voices agree with President Biden and Democrats on Ukraine.

The result is that since Russia’s February invasion, Congress has directed over $50 billion in aid to the Ukrainians. The end-of-year spending measure passed by Congress last week authorizes another $45 billion.

Some voices on Capitol Hill want to slow further funding. There is concern, too, about debate over sending military “advisers” — a term that stirs fear of Vietnam-style escalation of U.S. involvement.

So far, Biden has held the line on not sending U.S. troops into the conflict. Such a move would threaten domestic political support.

That support extends beyond the U.S. to the impressive international coalition he has formed to stand against Russian aggression. 

The past year of strong public support for Ukraine differs from the critical U.S. public response to the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

At around the time of the withdrawal in August of 2021, Pew Research found “about seven-in ten or more said the administration had done an only fair or poor job dealing with the situation there.” 

The criticism was strongly partisan, with Pew finding that 82 percent of Republicans said the Biden administration had done a “poor job” in Afghanistan while 40 percent of Democrats said the administration did an “excellent or good job.”

According to an analysis from FiveThirtyEight, it was the rocky withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan that first sent Biden’s overall job approval rating into negative territory.

Since then, his approval rating, while showing recent signs of improvement, has stayed below 50 percent. 

In my opinion, history will record Biden’s decision to end the nation’s longest war as overdue and right. At the time of the Afghanistan withdrawal, 54 percent agreed it was right, according to the Pew survey.

The flawed execution of the Afghan pull-out came at a political cost for Biden. The president’s success in killing al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in July this year was a positive afterword. But there is still criticism of the withdrawal. 

In contrast, overall support for U.S. standing with Ukraine has yet to be undone by partisanship. 

While no one is breaking out in choruses of “Kumbaya,” it is good news that Americans can agree on making a difference in Ukraine and setting a red line against aggression by authoritarian regimes such as China.

Source : The Hill

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