With their leadership troubles behind them, House Republicans are upping pressure on the Biden administration to spell out an “endgame” strategy for the war in Ukraine.
On a trip to the White House last week, new Speaker Mike Johnson said he brought with him a GOP white paper that calls for President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to provide Congress “with an actual win strategy.”
“How does Ukraine prevail and how long is this expected to take? These estimates do not need to be exact, but we should understand the end-state goal and exit criteria,” the paper states. It also asks for an estimate from the Biden administration on the “price tag” associated with executing that strategy, in addition to other specific questions about the war effort.
Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., told Semafor Thursday afternoon that he and other lawmakers who worked on the white paper had received a response from the White House, but hadn’t reviewed it yet.
“This is an opportunity for the administration to explain in great detail what the objective is, what the strategy is, and what the cost of it is,” he said.
The demands for a more detailed plan aren’t new. For months, Republican lawmakers have criticized the Biden administration for what they see as a failure to define victory and explain how to get there. “A pledge to support Ukraine ‘for as long as it takes’ is not a strategy,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas and Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho wrote in a letter to Biden last month (They have yet to receive a response).
What’s different now is Johnson’s suggestion during an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity that Congress might condition the approval of future assistance for Kyiv on that information.
“We want to know what the objective there is, what is the endgame in Ukraine?” Johnson said. Johnson has since said that Ukraine aid will come up “in short order,” once the House deals with help for Israel. (Garcia also said Thursday he was “100%” set on conditioning aid on the White House laying out more specifics).
Providing that roadmap is much easier said than done, and there are legitimate reasons the administration might not want to say how the war should conclude — chief among them the fact that it’s still Ukraine’s battle.
“It’s not our job primarily as Americans to be defining what the end state looks like if it’s not our war,” Dalibor Rohac, a scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, told Semafor.
The White House has repeatedly said the U.S. will be with Ukraine “as long as it takes,” while acknowledging — without putting any timeline on it — that the war will likely end at the negotiating table when Ukraine decides. At the same time, the White House feels it laid out its objectives for the war effectively in an op-ed Biden penned for the New York Times in May of last year that said the U.S. seeks “a democratic, independent, sovereign and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and defend itself against further aggression.”
Officials also often note that war is unpredictable. Case in point: U.S. intelligence’s failed prediction that Kyiv would fall to the Russians within days.
“We’re doing everything we can to support Ukraine in its counteroffensive. We’re not going to handicap the outcome. We’re not going to predict what’s going to happen because this war has been inherently unpredictable,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters in August.
One Western official recently pointed out to me that putting down a point-by-point endgame could “conflict” with the administration’s message that it’s willing to support Ukraine all the way to victory. Right now, the Biden administration is focused on forcefully backing Ukraine to show Russian President Vladimir Putin that he cannot wait out the West as support for aid dries up.
Americans are also split on what an endgame in Ukraine should look like. According to new Gallup polling out this week, 54% of Americans said they support Ukraine reclaiming its territory from Russia, even if it means a prolonged conflict; 43% percent say they’d prefer that the war end quickly, even if that requires Kyiv to permanently give up some land.
A similar divide exists in Congress, including between Republicans. Traditional national security hawks are still ready to back Kyiv for the long haul. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., told Semafor Ukraine’s endgame should be “to utterly beat Russia and run them out of their sovereign territory” including Crimea.
But more Trump-aligned populists are looking for an exit sooner rather than later. They point to headlines about Ukraine’s slow-moving counteroffensive and have doubts about Ukraine’s path forward. Even some Ukrainians are now openly admitting that the war has reached a stalemate.
“Putin is not going to lose this war,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. told Semafor. “He has nuclear weapons. Losing the war is an existential threat to Putin. So now we’re in this stalemate and more Ukraine soldiers and civilians are dying, more Russian conscripts are dying. I take no joy in that. These are young men that are yanked out of their villages probably with a gun aimed at their head, so this is going to have to be a negotiated settlement.”
“I think Zelenskyy better start working with Putin to try and figure out some end to this thing,” he added.
Room for Disagreement
During his interview with Hannity, Johnson insisted that the questions laid out in Garcia’s document are “not hard questions” for the administration to answer.
“We owe it to the people to know what the plan is, where the money is going to be spent, and we need some auditing for the dollars that we’ve already sent over there,” he said.