The Dangers of Peace in Ukraine

Ever since Elon Musk boldly suggested peace between Russia and Ukraine, calls for a cessation of hostilities became louder, primarily among some of the world’s richest people who are usually known for their sense of pragmatism and ability to read reality for what it is.

The general argument—advanced by the likes of Musk and Bill Ackman—is that given the immense power disparity between Russia and Ukraine, Ukrainian victory in the war is farfetched. The best-case scenario for Kyiv is to settle for peace now, at a time when it can leverage the important military gains it scored over the last month, particularly in Kharkiv.

This pragmatic solution to the conflict, while raising many eyebrows, piqued the interest of mainstream and social media, which devoted considerable attention to the debates and spats it produced. Pundits and journalists weighed in on the matter, while bots and Twitter warriors erupted with all sorts of malicious and violent responses, instantly transforming Musk from Ukraine’s hero to its most traitorous enemy.

In the midst of all this media frenzy, one stakeholder in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict remained conspicuously silent. Peace in Ukraine seemed like the one outcome the Biden Administration did not want to hear. Indeed, Biden is content with perpetuating the conflict, even though such an approach does not serve concrete American national interests abroad. Increased American involvement in the war, however, does provide Biden and his embattled Democrats with some leverage during the approaching elections.

Indeed, according to most respected polls, the economy looms large over the upcoming midterm elections. Unmitigated rising inflation has directly impacted voters, with costs of living skyrocketing and forcing many into making cuts to their everyday spending or simply further sliding into poverty. As a result, 44 percent of intended voters believe that the economy is the key problem presently facing the United States, with 42 percent believing that the Republican Party is more able to solve this problem, as opposed to 31 percent who still trust the Democrats. The same Reuters/Ipsos poll reveals that key talking points Democrats are trying to push forward during these elections, like gun violence, abortion laws, and the climate, are immediate issues for only 21 percent of voters.

For a man whose administration has done nothing to remedy the situation and who went on public record stating that inflation is a “great asset” and anyone who thinks otherwise a “stupid son of a bitch,” these coming elections are clearly turning into a reckoning. There is no excuse for such ineptitude—except for the war in Ukraine.

Months after sanctions on Russia rattled global markets, which eventually recalibrated and rectified, the administration, its spokespeople, and sympathetic media still place the blame for rising costs squarely at Russia’s feet. On October 18, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated: “Putin’s war continues. His war on Ukraine—his unprovoked war, brutal war on Ukraine continues. And so it puts pressure on our global energy supplies because of this war.” The rationale is that global energy supplies directly affect logistics and shipping, which, in turn, negatively impact production and distribution, ending in higher costs that consumers are forced to endure.

A return to this line of argument follows two months of touting that the administration has effectively dealt with the energy crisis, with gas prices falling to a national average of almost $4 a gallon, still well above their pre-crisis levels. What is more embarrassing is that the now rising prices are the direct result of Biden’s failed diplomacy.

He was first unable to convince the Saudis to increase their oil production output during his visit to the Kingdom in July. And now, the Saudis, America’s most reliable Arab allies, have even led OPEC to cutting daily production by 2 million barrels, a 7 percent decrease. Still, the administration presents Russia’s war in Ukraine as the main culprit behind its woeful economic record. A peaceful resolution to the conflict would thus deprive the current administration of its much-needed scapegoat.

Aside from the economy, the Biden Administration also has to deal with a dismal foreign policy record. His previously mentioned failure in the Middle East pales in comparison to his catastrophic leadership during the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Images of Afghans, who collaborated with American troops, trying to board planes, getting kicked out (sometimes literally), and being left behind to die at the hands of the victorious Taliban tarnished the status of the United States beyond repair.

In response, Democrats decided to up the ante against China, hoping to reconstruct a representation of U.S. strength after the Afghanistan debacle. They sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to Taiwan, hoping to show the world that America does not leave its allies hanging. It was another major faux pas, which gave China an excuse to increase its aggressive rhetoric, but was an even greater public relations fiasco. The Chinese media had a field day caricaturing the visit and its protagonist Pelosi, who was described as a “plastic woman” and a “moving mummy,” a “proper representation of America’s decaying power.”

As a result, Biden desperately needs a foreign policy victory, which requires a Russian military defeat. For this victory to be achieved, the objective must be Russia’s utter humiliation on the battlefield. Putin cannot be allowed to keep hold of any occupied territory, and his expansionist ambitions must be squashed. Any talk of peace would therefore mean another political defeat for Biden, who has been egging on the Ukrainian side, providing them with a never-ending supply of weapons.

In fact, the president, backed by Congress, is hoping to drown the Ukrainians with enough military support to bog down Russian forces in an attrition war and eventually push them into retreat. So far, he has managed to pledge almost $60 billion in military aid, of which $18 billion have already been delivered, according to the estimates of the Department of Defense. To put this in perspective, this sum is equivalent to Russia’s entire annual defense budget. The cost of peace is, therefore, too high to even consider. The war must go on until victory is assured.

Yet, once again, Biden’s gamble might prove to have disastrous effects. Backed into a corner, Putin might leave an even greater path of destruction in his wake, using both conventional and non-conventional means, like his nuclear arsenal. His own political survival depends on it. Such a scenario will force the United States and the rest of the West to halt their effective military involvement in the conflict for fear of escalating into an all-out war, where mutually assured destruction is guaranteed.

On the domestic front, the blank check Biden grants Ukraine’s Zelenskyy is beginning to test voters’ and observers’ commitment to the issue. This is not entirely Biden’s fault though. Zelenskyy’s own entitlement and attitude, making demands and issuing threats left and right, are wearing down support for Ukraine’s cause. Still, it is Biden who will feel the brunt of the backlash, with voices rising to challenge the unquestionable support Kyiv is receiving.

Tucker Carlson, for example, unleashed an unadulterated tirade against Zelenskyy: “We don’t owe this guy anything, not one thing. . . . And as our economy degrades and our border is gone, that guy is lecturing us with some Christmas list, like ‘I want this, that and I want a bicycle too! Send it, quick!’ Really? Up yours, buddy.”

Entrepreneur and investor David Sacks issued a similar statement the next day: “Ukraine has smeared peace advocates, outlawed peace talks, urged preemptive strikes by the West, and insists on retaking Crimea at risk of nuclear war. It does not deserve unqualified, unconditional, and unlimited US support.”

And while these sentiments are directed against Zelenskyy and his wartime leadership, they clearly hold the Biden Administration accountable for its “unqualified, unconditional, and unlimited [ . . . ] support.”

Given this rising opposition to the war, Biden will be forced to retort by digging in his heels. He cannot afford to have cost U.S. taxpayers tens of billions of dollars, reaping nothing in return. Peace at a time when Russia is not completely beaten is nothing short of another major setback for the administration.

The irony is that Biden was never forced down this belligerent path. And while the myriad of options he had at his disposal remain the subject of another examination, it suffices to point out that, facing disastrous failures in his handling of the economy and foreign policy, the current U.S. president sees opportunity in the perpetuation of the Russo-Ukrainian war. Peace, in this case, is hazardous to his administration and his party’s almost nonexistent chances of maintaining their majority in next month’s elections.

To avert such an outcome, Biden is willing to fight till the last Ukrainian.

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About Hicham Tohme

Hicham Tohme is the director of Trans-Atlantic Network Consulting. He holds a PhD in Politics from the University of Sheffield and is an expert on Russian military interventions and foreign relations, particularly in the Middle East. He is the author of Russia's Geostrategic Outlook and the Syrian Crisis (2020).

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images