White House anxiously watches Ukraine’s counteroffensive, seeing the Biden’s reputation at stake

8:17 10.06.2023 •

And… if Ukraine brings down Biden's reputation?
Photo: Foreign Affairs

Senior U.S. officials are convinced that future support for the Ukraine war — and President Joe Biden’s global reputation — hinges on the success of Ukraine’s counteroffensive. Succeed and Western military and economic aid will flow. Stumble or fail to meet expectations, and that support will likely dry up, sparking heightened calls for an expedited diplomatic resolution and hampering one of the White House’s signature international achievements, writes POLITICO.

Kyiv has had its share of make-or-break moments during the 16-month war it has waged against an invading Russia. But the current round of fighting has taken on heightened importance back in Washington, where domestic politics is muddying the overall picture.

U.S. officials do not know if lawmakers will greenlight more funding for Ukraine when the current tranche runs out. Any initial missteps in the counteroffensive, administration officials fear, could empower House Republicans to scuttle efforts by their Senate counterparts to boost defense spending.

Anxiety is also growing in Washington as Ukrainian elements are striking deep into sovereign Russian territory, leading to several private, stern admonishments in diplomatic backchannels.

U.S. officials believe that Kyiv, or at least pro-Ukraine forces, are responsible for a drone attack on the Kremlin and explosions that have killed both a prominent pro-war blogger and the daughter of a Russian nationalist. And this week, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. had intelligence indicating that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government planned to attack the Nord Stream pipelines — and later, officials believe, a pro-Kyiv group did it instead.

Biden has always felt a large degree of comfort navigating international issues, having served as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a globe-trotting vice president before getting to the Oval Office.

But his current foreign policy plate is packed — and Ukraine isn’t the only priority.

He will have to address mounting concerns about Saudi Arabia’s defiance of American wishes by moving to raise the price of oil; collapsing military-to-military talks with China as President Xi Jinping’s military acts aggressively toward U.S. crafts in the region and plans to establish a spy base in Cuba; and an uneasy visit coming this month from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that cuts against his argument that the 21st century’s defending conflict is between small-d democrats and autocrats.

Tensions had been escalating between the United States and China well before then, nearly breaking down when a Chinese spy balloon traversed the United States. The administration’s continued sanctions on Chinese defense minister, Li Shangfu, and recent incidents when both a Chinese fighter jet and warship buzzed dangerously close to their American counterparts have eroded what little bonhomie remained.

From its first days, the Biden administration declared that the homefront was the source of America’s strength. If the nation’s house was in order, then the U.S. would have greater success achieving around the world. The lines between domestic and foreign policy, Biden has repeatedly argued, have never been more blurred.

The debt ceiling debate showed the tension that interlocking domestic and global priorities present.

Part of Biden’s renewed focus on international affairs will be driven by current political realities. He has a far greater array of unilateral powers in foreign policy than domestic affairs. And using those powers allows him to play up his role as an effective commander-in-chief for a reelection bid.

“While elections aren’t usually about foreign policy, this one in 2024 will be about who will be capable of governing — and he can help convey that on the world stage. It’s subtle but effective,” said Julian Zelizer, presidential historian at Princeton University.


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