Was everybody as bored by the debt limit “crisis” as I was?

This alleged drama, covered wall-to-wall by every major news outlet incessantly for days on end, was always headed for a predictable and undramatic ending.

President Biden made some minor and fleeting concessions to the fact of a (tiny) Republican majority in the House, and Congress will whine but grudgingly accept the deal as things finally return to as normal as they ever get in Washington. The script is thoroughly familiar.

Ukrainian soldiers fire a cannon near Bakhmut, an eastern city where fierce battles against Russian forces have been taking place, in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, May 15, 2023. (AP file photo)

We can now perhaps turn to another issue, far more consequential, and far more interesting than the interminable coverage of the presidential “race” that once again began before anyone but political junkies were paying attention. In a word: Ukraine.

This is not something one hears much about, except on the “foreign affairs” page. But it could be crucial to the 2024 election.

To put it bluntly: Biden must show positive results over the next 12 months from NATO’s vast investment in Ukraine’s charismatic young leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, or his reelection will be in jeopardy.


The calculus is simple. Most of the time, Americans care much more about domestic than foreign policy, but wars change things.

True, this isn’t an American war, but it’s effectively a proxy war, and a huge one, involving the world’s major alliances, and our major adversary during the two-generation-long Cold War.

And the contrast between Biden and his predecessor could hardly be starker. Donald Trump was entirely comfortable with an aggressive Vladimir Putin, and saw himself as having more in common with the Russian autocrat than our NATO allies.

Trump repeatedly denounced the burden of defending Europe, and did everything he could to weaken the alliance, doubtless encouraging Putin to begin the invasion shortly after a potentially hostile administration took office.

That Putin disastrously miscalculated is now beyond argument. Rather than sweeping into Kyiv, his troops bogged down and are being slaughtered daily, dependent on mercenaries to even hold existing lines.

Biden has steadily increased the pressure, escalating the weaponry supplied Ukraine without making a misstep Putin could use to justify his oft-repeated but increasingly hollow threats about nuclear weapons.


The “spring offensive” Zelenskyy’s lieutenants talked about since winter has yet to occur because, presumably, the necessary advantages are not yet there. But they need to be soon.

The patience of the American people for foreign adventures isn’t infinite, as shown repeatedly through recent history.

Part of the myth of America’s rise from an insignificant former colony in the late 18th century to a global powerhouse in the early 20th was a gradually achieved sense of invincibility. America, its citizens were told, never lost a war.

Through World War II, evidence supported the claim. Then came stalemate in Korea, and the utter disaster of Vietnam, which destroyed Lyndon Johnson’s presidency and fractured the Democratic Party in ways from which it has still not entirely recovered.

Jimmy Carter’s response to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and his impotence in the face of Iran’s hostage-taking helped doom his presidency.

George H.W. Bush led a successful international coalition to reverse Saddam Hussein’s attempted annexation of Kuwait, but the strategic stakes were too low to buffer him against recession and his own party’s right-wing revolt and he, like Carter, was a one-term president.


His son, George W. Bush, is an object lesson in the highs and lows of wartime swings. His approval ratings soared after the September 11 attacks, the highest ever recorded in an accredited poll: 92%.

They also plummeted to the lowest ever, 19%, during his last year in office after the misbegotten invasion of Iraq, accompanied by CIA torture, under-equipped troops and painfully premature declarations of “mission accomplished.”

Biden is readier to take on foreign policy challenges than any president since H.W. Bush, and it shows.

Barack Obama was unready when Putin launched his first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, occupying Crimea and much of the Donbas. In fairness, so was Ukraine, which had just evicted a Moscow-friendly incumbent who falsely claimed he’d won an election he’d lost.

Now a much larger invasion must be repelled if Western democracies and NATO are to remain whole, and autocracy is to be sent into retreat. The stakes could hardly be higher.

In 2024, there will an unmistakable choice for American voters. Do they want a Putin enabler, or someone from his party, in office — or someone who defines Putin’s imperial ambitions as unjust, illegal, and a threat to democracy everywhere?

Only if Putin is in retreat and disarray by then can we safely anticipate the outcome.

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