If the polls are to be believed, not since two U.S. citizens were beheaded by ISIS in 2014 have the American people been as attentive to a foreign military crisis as they have with Russia’s war of conquest in Ukraine. The public is engaged. They are willing to absorb financial pain to see Moscow’s ambitions thwarted. They’re even warming to the prospect of direct engagement with the aggressor. It is a historic moment, which makes it all the stranger to see progressives emphatically writing themselves out of it.
Progressivism’s representatives in Congress have decided that the best use of their political capital during this crisis is to lobby for policies that actively detract from American national interests. While the public is nervous about America’s ability to deter its adversaries and ensure energy security, the left has decided that this is the perfect time to handcuff America’s energy producers and truncate our deterrence capabilities.
Politico reports this week that House progressives are seizing on an energy crisis brought on by an anticipated supply shock to argue for even more artificial limits on supply. The plan, insofar as you can call it that, is to compel President Joe Biden to declare a national emergency and use his executive powers to “declare a ban on oil and gas drilling on federal lands, end domestic and international fossil fuel subsidies, and issue executive order related to environmental justice and clean air and water.”
The general salience of this utopian project is dubious in peacetime, but it’s downright toxic amid a popular economic war against one of the world’s leading energy exporters. A HarrisX survey conducted in early March indicates that a majority of Americans believe that the Biden administration should “ease its focus on climate change and allow more oil and natural gas exploration,” particularly “in light of Russia’s attack on Ukraine and soaring gasoline prices.” Surprisingly, that includes a majority of self-described Democrats.
No one with elementary political instincts should need a poll to confirm that domestic fossil-fuel production would be popular during a surge in energy prices. Years of dedicated ideological instruction are necessary before an initiate can successfully throttle the basic impulse toward political self-preservation into submission. And yet, even the left’s near-religious commitment to the idea that climate change is as or more threatening than the prospect of direct conflict with a nuclear nation isn’t as impressive as their strict adherence to the idea that American military power is the cause of all the world’s ills. Only that explains why they would choose to argue against American defense spending during the worst military crisis in Europe since 1945.
“I do think Ukraine has just made it harder,” said Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Pramila Jayapal when asked about her faction’s crusade to cut military spending. “We had thought with the ending of the war in Afghanistan, we could push for a real reduction in the defense budget, and there will be another opportunity. But look, this is an epic battle.”
Her pie-eyed commitment to kneecapping the American armed forces is flawed on its own terms. America’s bloody lurch toward the exit doors in Afghanistan was coupled with the president’s insistence that the U.S. would continue to interdict terrorist operations in Afghanistan from “over the horizon.” He didn’t follow through with that promise because he surrendered the operational capacity to achieve his goals, but the goals were plainly stated. Indeed, the murder of 13 Americans in a terrorist operation on our way out the door demonstrated the need for that kind of contingency to anyone who can see beyond their own navel.
There hasn’t been new polling on defense spending since Russian forces poured over Ukraine’s borders, but the people’s representatives seem to think they’re on sure footing when they—Democrat and Republican alike—back a beefier defense budget. “I think people are sort of waking up out of this haze that we were living somehow in a secure world,” Democrat and Armed Services Committee member Rep. Elaine Luria told the New York Times. “I couldn’t agree more with my colleagues who have talked about putting more force in right now,” her Democratic colleague Rep. Elise Slotkin added. “We have to completely re-evaluate deterrence and how we re-establish it.”
Afghanistan demonstrated that Americans weren’t nearly as ambivalent about U.S. commitments abroad as the denizens of some Dupont Circle think tanks insisted they were. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has showcased the West’s vulnerability not just to asymmetric operations by non-state actors but to conventional wars of conquest by great powers. The left’s disconnect not just from the real world but from the voters for whom they presume to speak suggests a progressive ascendency is a long way off.
If Joe Biden was half the centrist he pretended to be on the campaign trail, he would use this gift-wrapped opportunity to take these blinkered, tone-deaf millstones from around his neck and toss them into the sea. The left’s ideological rigor mortis is so advanced that the movement’s leading lights cannot perform the basic legwork necessary to capitalize on events and advance their agenda. Indeed, progressivism’s avatars in Congress don’t seem even to be aware that their goals run counter to the national interest at a time of real global crisis. If the stakes of the present moment weren’t so high, it would be a gratifying spectacle to watch.