Top defense officials appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee were met warmly from both sides of the aisle regarding the language of the Biden administration surrounding the war in Ukraine.
“Have the words ‘victory’ and ‘victory’ been removed from the administration’s vocabulary upon arrival in Ukraine?” Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a hearing he attended newsweek,
“I reviewed your written testimony – you talked about ‘detention’ 29 times,” he said. “You never want to use the word ‘victory’ or ‘victory’ with reference to Ukraine.”
Austin denied Cotton’s allegations.
“‘Win’ certainly hasn’t been purged from our vocabulary,” he said, adding that the Biden administration’s goal is for Ukraine to maintain “its sovereignty and ability to defend its country, defend itself.” [and] Maintain your government.”
But many Americans share Cotton’s sentiments, and want the administration to take a stronger stance toward Russian aggression. An Associated Press/NORC poll published March 24 found that 56% of Americans felt that President Joe Biden’s “response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has not been tough enough.”
Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kizinger echoed similar concerns in an interview. newsweek Earlier this week, the White House’s backlash from Biden’s statement that Putin “cannot stay in power” left the president “looking weak”.
Cotton was not the only MLA who expressed concern during the meeting. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut was the first to ask Austin about the Defense Department’s language about his intentions in Ukraine.
“You’ve said the outcome is an open question, but what bothers me is that it’s an open question, it’s a prediction,” Blumenthal said. “The aim is to enable the Ukrainians to win.”
“It seems to me that often our strategy seems to be somewhat schizophrenic,” he said. “We want the Ukrainians to defeat the Russians, but we fear that pushing Putin into defeat could escalate tensions.”
Biden has said the US will “defend every inch of NATO territory”, but has focused largely on providing military aid to Ukraine while avoiding direct conflict with Russia. In his initial testimony, Austin noted that “Russia’s nuclear capabilities also face significant challenges now and in the future.”
While Americans want the administration to take tougher action, a separate poll published by the Pew Research Center on March 15 showed that 62% of Americans would oppose military action against Russia “if it risks a nuclear conflict.”
As the war continues, balancing rigidity while avoiding the prospect of nuclear escalation is likely to be an ongoing concern of the administration. Supporting Ukraine’s democracy could become a major issue as the US approaches the midterm elections.
“I feel very strongly about Ukraine’s victory and maintaining its sovereign integrity as a nation,” said Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa. “The democratic form of their governance is so important to so many Americans, because so many Americans see themselves reflected in Ukrainians.”
“We must absolutely ensure that we are doing everything possible for the country of Ukraine and its citizens,” he said.