Americans are divided when it comes to Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. On the one hand they want the government to fight inflation, on the other hand they want to stop buying Russian oil. Doubts about US President Joe Biden are growing.
It is not always easy for governments to translate the sometimes contradictory expectations of the population into a coherent policy that is also supported by public opinion. This was particularly true of the American administration, which faced conflicting expectations in public opinion with regard to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
Four-fifths of the American public, for example, called for the American public to stop buying Russian oil, but at the same time said that inflation – and particularly high gas prices – is their real problem and that the government should make gas cheaper.
At the start of the war, three quarters of US citizens believed it was right for the US to establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine, but at the same time did not want the US to intervene in the war, which would have meant establishing a no-fly zone.
Now this is not surprising, because public opinion is often contradictory, because citizens support different positions for different reasons, but only later become aware of the contradictions.
Sometimes simple wishful thinking shapes the public discourse. The government then has to make a decision, especially when it is faced with an important election – as will be the case in the USA in a few months. And it must try to adopt a coherent position that allies can connect with and that can also be sustained.
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Having to admit that you were wrong shortly before the election is a problem for governments in democratic countries. President Biden was forewarned here with the experience of the Afghan pullout, although he caused a few uproar over the past few months.
For example, when he said before the war that the American reaction would be different if it were just a “small attack” by Russia, or when he later added to his speech in Poland with the spontaneous sentence that Putin should not remain in office. That aside, the American position has been somewhat coherent since late 2021, when it began warning of war.
The policy directed against Russia can therefore count on broad support from public opinion. It is interesting to note that a majority of Democratic voters believe the US has a duty to support Ukraine, compared to just a third of Republican voters.
Trump’s national-populist influence is reflected here. That is why it is also significant for the US administration that the number of those who say the US supports Ukraine too much increased slightly and stood at 12 percent in May. For a third it was still too little. But the US government will be watching this trend closely.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Jäger has held the Chair for International Politics and Foreign Policy at the University of Cologne since 1999. His research focuses on international relations and American and German foreign policy.
The neocons – those who urged President George W. Bush to attack Iraq – would also have the say in the Biden cabinet. Her mantra is that the US must act militarily globally in order to maintain its position in the world. However, this position – represented by Jeffrey Sachs, for example – cannot really assert itself because, firstly, Russia started the war and, secondly, only Viktoria Nuland – Deputy Secretary of State in the Biden administration – is assigned to this group.
One could argue about that, but that it determines American politics is nonsense. And Secretary of State Blinken and Secretary of Defense Austin are certainly not neocons. So left-wing criticism lacks momentum.
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Finally, there is also the argument in the USA that the West provoked Russia’s war by admitting new members to NATO. But it only comes up very faintly because its main proponent, John Mearsheimer, keeps repeating his mantra – Putin doesn’t want a great Russian power, just preventing Ukraine from joining NATO – but is increasingly unable to reconcile it with the facts.
The attempted capture of Kiev, the shortage of food, the enormous internal repression in Russia and the adaptation of the Russian economy to war, as well as the energy conflict with the EU, do not fit into this interpretation.
Ultimately, this means that Biden should not expect any political headwind from these three alternative assessments of his policy – it is the neocons, he supports sluggish Europeans and the West is to blame for the war.
And this phase of political courtship usually develops its own momentum. Therefore, the President has the task of publicly and effectively representing the balance in the weighing of both positions.
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Doubts are growing as to whether President Biden will succeed. He stands in a long shadow cast by the question of whether to run again in the next election. Democrats face a serious choice here. It is not surprising that Biden was unable to retain Republican voters. It is also not surprising that he does not inspire the left wing of the Democrats.
A Trump candidacy would increase mobilization on the part of the Democrats. What it would mean for the previous consensus to support Ukraine is difficult to predict. It is unclear what position Trump will take. On the other hand, it is likely that, contrary to current American policy, it will not be consistent, but will be marked by surprises.
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