April 14, 2022 3:06 pm
When it comes to the role and behavior of the United States on the Ukrainian crisis, one of the most frequent criticisms leveled at the administration of President Joe Biden is that it is not really interested in resolving the conflict but that it wants to provoke Putin to justify a military escalation. and regime change in Moscow.
These criticisms grew stronger after Biden’s speech in Warsaw on March 26. Many have interpreted his words against Putin, “a butcher” who “cannot remain in power”, as a further demonstration of the warfare not only of the White House in the Ukrainian crisis but, more generally, of US society as a whole. The idea that the United States is a country that irremediably tends towards military interventionism and imposing its will on the rest of the world – regardless of who the president is – is one of those prepackaged theses that have been abounding in the analyzes of the last month and half, and which do not help to understand the Ukrainian crisis or the potential consequences for international politics.
The orientation of Americans on wars and their country’s position in the world has changed a lot over the years, and in any case it is never homogeneous at any given historical moment. It is important to bear this in mind if we are to try to understand the choices made in Washington.
Public opinion has changed
The tragic consequences of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, explains an article published some time ago in FiveThirtyEight, have made public opinion much less inclined to accept the possibility of sending US soldiers abroad. “When George W. Bush’s war on terror spread to Iraq in 2003, an overwhelming majority of Americans (76 percent) supported the invasion. Eight years later, in 2011, a new majority was against striking the Libyan regime during the Arab Spring. And in 2017 only 50 percent of public opinion approved the attacks launched by Donald Trump to punish the Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad for the use of chemical weapons “.
Demographic changes also help explain this dynamic. Over the years, an increasingly large share of the electorate is made up of adults who were born and raised after the end of the Cold War or after the attacks of 11 September 2001. These generations (more racially diverse) tend less than the previous ones to think that the United States is threatened, so they are less interested in foreign policy and more in internal problems. However, this does not mean that Americans have withdrawn completely from the world or that they are hopelessly on isolationist positions. A poll by the Chicago council on global affairs shows that a majority of the US public is in favor of initiatives to defend threatened allies.
The United States feels threatened by China far more than by Russia
This brings us to Ukraine. Polls conducted so far show that the vast majority of US public opinion (more than 80 percent) want to do what they can to help the country but without directly intervening in the conflict. An orientation that basically fits perfectly with the way in which the Biden administration has managed the crisis so far: to give the Ukrainians the weapons they need to repel Russia (anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft missiles), but not those that could put the Ukraine in a position to attack Russia (tanks and military aircraft); approve far-reaching economic sanctions but without calling for a total freeze on Russia’s energy exports, as the Obama administration did with Iran in 2012.
Biden’s speech in Warsaw on March 26, the one that made Europeans indignant, is also part of this scenario. The president, addressing Putin, said: “Do not even think about entering even an inch of NATO territory”. According to the Economist, “the Ukrainians interpreted that phrase as a green light for the Russians to give their worst in Ukraine. Likewise, by saying ‘we must prepare for a long battle’, he meant that the United States will do nothing to stop the horrors soon ”.
This deliberate ambiguity is naturally explained by the fact that Russia is a nuclear power, but also by the fact that Ukraine is not at the center of US interests as Taiwan is, for example, and that the US feels threatened. much more from China than from Russia.
With the Russians increasingly in trouble on the battlefield, the Economist continues, “pressure will increase in Washington on Biden to help Volodimyr Zelensky in any way he can defeat the Russian army. A victory by the Ukrainians would revitalize democracy and could even lead to Putin’s downfall. But Biden is more interested in what will happen in the long run: Ukraine is defending itself, Russia is weakening and China is paying a political cost for supporting Putin ”.
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