The About-Face by US Lawmakers

Pursuing diplomacy to end the war in Ukraine is not a radical concept, writes Marjorie Cohn. Indeed, international law requires it. 

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in 2019. (USGLC, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

By Marjorie Cohn

On Oct. 24, 30 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus signed a letter to President Joe Biden calling for “direct talks with Russia” to end the war in Ukraine. But in an alarming about-face, they withdrew the letter the next day.

The letter urged Biden “to make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire.” It raised the possibility of “incentives to end hostilities, including some form of sanctions relief.”

Since Russia illegally invaded Ukraine, 6,374 civilians are estimated to have been killed, including 402 children, and 9,776 people have been reported injured. The war has impacted the global economy and caused inflation, recession and food and gas shortages.

In the letter, the Congress members cited “the catastrophic possibilities of nuclear escalation and miscalculation, which only increase the longer this war continues.” Calling themselves “legislators responsible for the expenditure of tens of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in military assistance in the conflict,” they wrote that they believed “such involvement in this war also creates a responsibility for the United States to seriously explore all possible avenues, including direct engagement with Russia, to reduce harm and support Ukraine in achieving a peaceful settlement.”

The letter was endorsed by Just Foreign Policy; MoveOn; Peace Action; Campaign for Peace, Disarmament, and Common Security; the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft; Win Without War; Friends Committee on National Legislation; and Physicians for Social Responsibility.

But the outcry following its publication, mainly from other Democrats, was so intense that Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the caucus, retracted the letter on Oct. 25.

The retraction followed a Washington Post article written by Yasmeen Abutalebwho characterized the letter as “urging President Biden to dramatically shift his strategy on the Ukraine war and pursue direct negotiations with Russia, the first time prominent members of his own party have pushed him to change his approach to Ukraine.” The Democratic congressional members who signed the letter did not want to be tarred with the same brush as Republicans calling for a halt to U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

No Current Possibilities

President Joe Biden delivering “stand with Ukraine” remarks on May 3 at the Lockheed Martin facility in Troy, Alabama. (White House, Adam Schultz)

Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed interest in a direct dialogue between Russia and Ukraine, though it’s not clear what the terms of these discussions would be. But the White House stated on Oct. 26 that it envisions no current possibilities for negotiations to stop the bloodshed.

Although Biden has warned that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine increased the risk of “Armageddon,” the Biden administration’s newly released 2022 Nuclear Posture Review frighteningly allows the “first-use” of nuclear weapons, which violates international law.

On Oct. 27, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he does not intend to use nuclear weapons, stating, “There is no point in that, neither political nor military.” That position, however, could change as the war progresses.

In the statement of retraction, Jayapal wrote, “The letter was drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting. As Chair of the Caucus, I accept responsibility for this.” She added,

“Because of the timing, our message is being conflated by some as being equivalent to the recent statement by Republican Leader McCarthy threatening an end to aid to Ukraine if Republicans take over. The proximity of these statements created the unfortunate appearance that Democrats, who have strongly and unanimously supported and voted for every package of military, strategic, and economic assistance to the Ukrainian people, are somehow aligned with Republicans who seek to pull the plug on American support for President Zelensky and the Ukrainian forces.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaking with supporters President Donald Trump at a reelection campaign rally in Phoenix, October 2020. (Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The Oct. 24 letter was not pro-Putin by any means. It referred to “Russia’s war of aggression” and its “outrageous and illegal invasion of Ukraine.” And it mentioned Ukraine’s right of “self-defense” as an “independent, sovereign and democratic state.”

Yet signatories to the letter, including Rep. Mark Takano (D-California), Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-Illinois), Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-California) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland), distanced themselves from the mild statements in it.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California), who also signed the letter, stood firm against withdrawing it, calling the letter “common sense” in an interview with CNN. “All the letter said is that we, at the same time that we stand with Ukraine, need to make sure that we’re reducing the risk for nuclear war, that we’re engaging in talks with the Russians to make sure that the conflict doesn’t escalate,” he said.

Khanna tweeted, “We must also pursue every avenue of diplomacy to seek an end to the war. That is not a sign of appeasement, but effective diplomacy and statesmanship to save lives.”

Even former President Barack Obama has raised the importance of talking to the Kremlin. “Probably the thing that I’m most concerned about is that lines of communication between the White House and the Kremlin are probably as weak as they have been in a very long time,” he said on Oct. 15.

Moreover, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, ret. Adm. Mike Mullen, has advocated the use of diplomacy in this war, stating that Secretary of State Tony Blinken and other diplomats need “to figure out a way to get both [Ukrainian President Volodmyr] Zelenskyy and Putin to the table.”

Adm. Mike Mullen speaking to U.S. sailors, 2006. (U.S Navy, Douglas Morrison)

Anatol Lieven, director of the Eurasia Program at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, took aim at the Biden administration’s view that “negotiations for peace or ceasefire are purely a matter for the Ukrainians.”

Lieven told Jacobin,

“That can’t be right. The United States is massively arming Ukraine, funding Ukraine, and running great risks for the sake of Ukraine — nuclear war, but also if you look at global conditions, the threat of recession, inflation in the U.S., the threat of really deep recession in Europe, food shortages in parts of the world.”

He added, “Of course that gives us a say in trying to bring about a peace settlement.”

The United States has appropriated more than $60 billion in assistance to Ukraine.

Advocating diplomacy to end Russia’s war in Ukraine is not a radical concept. Indeed, international law requires that countries pursue diplomatic means to resolve international conflicts.

The United Nations Charter says in Article 2, “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.”

Article 33 of the charter states, “The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.”

According to a recent Data for Progress poll, public opinion also supports the pursuit of a diplomatic solution. “A majority (57 percent) of Americans support U.S. negotiations to end the war in Ukraine as soon as possible, even if it means Ukraine making some compromises with Russia,” Jessica Rosenblum wrote for the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

Five thousand people have signed a petition circulated by CODEPINK and addressed to Biden, NATO Commander Jens Stoltenberg and EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen. It says, “As peace-loving citizens of the world, we urge you to support an immediate ceasefire and negotiated peace in Ukraine.” The petition states that Russia and Ukraine “can negotiate an end to this disastrous war — provided the U.S. and NATO do not torpedo the negotiations with promises of more and more weapons and talk of weakening Russia for regime change.”

This war affects all of us and the threat of nuclear conflagration looms large. House progressives signed a letter that encouraged negotiations to end the bloodshed. But they quickly buckled under pressure and retracted it. The stakes of prolonged war are high but diplomacy remains ephemeral. Until the Biden administration pursues a peaceful settlement with Russia, the war in Ukraine will likely continue to take its toll around the world.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and a member of the national advisory boards of Assange Defense and Veterans For Peace, and the bureau of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her books include Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues. She is co-host of “Law and Disorder” radio.

This article is from Truthout and reprinted with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

34 comments for “The About-Face by US Lawmakers

  1. WillD
    November 2, 2022 at 23:18

    This is the one single glaring issue that undermines everything that the collective west says about the Ukraine conflict and the economic war against Russia. It is the huge raging elephant in the room!

    How can anyone believe in the sincerity of anything the western leaders say when they don’t call and push for negotiations and peace, but instead do the opposite calling for more aggression and measures that directly impact people in the collective west, and also the global south (not that they care about these people at all)?

    This call by so-called progressives was nothing more than a feeble attempt to appease some voters before the mi-term elections – it lacked sincerity and conviction, as evidenced by the grovelling back-tracking by some of them. If anything it showed up Biden and his aggressive regime for what it really is.

    Is Biden credible? Are Blinken, Scholz, Macron, or any of the others credible? No, of course not – their statements and actions reveal the lie – that they want to pursue their obsessive demented war against Russia (and now China as well) regardless of the cost, and at the expense of their people – not just to the ‘last Ukrainian’ but also to the last ‘American and European’ as well.

    The collective west is now run by very very dangerous madmen, who will get us all killed unless we stop them. But how?

  2. Piotr Berman
    November 2, 2022 at 13:08

    ALL American commentators that I know are weasels on this issue. Negotiations make no sense if you are not ready to make concessions. Does it matter that inhabitants of Crimea and some other regions do not want to live in a country that bars use of Russian in public life, including education, censors “pro-Russian” expression, bans political parties, etc.? Does it matter that Russia does not want to have NATO controlled missile installations on its border? Etc.

  3. Vera Gottlieb
    November 2, 2022 at 10:51

    Pleading for peace is a radical concept? And what is wishing war to start? Of course, the military/industrial complex wouldn’t mind a ‘little war’ to liven up the neighbourhood while making bundles of $$$. Demented people. America: the Earth’s cancer.

  4. Jeff Andrews
    November 2, 2022 at 10:13

    The only way this war ends is when people stop thinking it’s up to the US, NATO or the EU. All they (sort of) decide is the time it will take, the number Ukrainian/ NATO casualties and the destruction of our economies. It will end with Russia and the free world victorious or a massive nuclear exchange but a free world nonetheless with Washington DC pile of rubble. And the Pentagon and UK foreign office giant craters.

  5. Arch Stanton
    November 2, 2022 at 09:23

    Can someone post a reputable link for the 14,000 Donbas casualties since 2014 please?
    I need one for ‘educating’ purposes

    With reference to the article, I don’t see Diapers Joe ending this, he’s escalating the situation to a certain nuclear conflict, what a despicable piece of human detritus he is.

    • Rebecca Turner
      November 3, 2022 at 04:20

      “Ukraine: More than 14,000 casualties to date but ‘actual numbers are likely considerably higher'” – from the UN, which is possibly as reputable as you can get. UN News, 9 September 2022.

  6. November 2, 2022 at 09:09

    Its good to see the cynical comments here. In the West, Empire interests ALWAYS win. Not because of chance or dumb luck but steadfast planning and manipulation.

    The progressive about face has ripped the cover off the ball but the signs of political subservience to the Empire were already there for anyone that cared to look. Warnings went unheeded and now we see the consequences. Despite the hopes of millions in USA (and the world) there are no political saviors in USA. No adults in the room. Only lip service.

    Trump is not against war: he never followed-thru on his North Korean peace deal; nearly started a war with Iran; and seized Syrian oil fields. And who can forget his sword-dancing with the Saudi’s?

    Bernie is not against Empire/war: he served the establishment as a non-candidate for two Presidential elections and proposed legislation against the Yemen war was lambasted for its utter weakness. His criticism of CPC’s Letter confirms who/what he is.

    Tulsi? Some think she is different. But many thought that Trump and Bernie were real populists too. Tulsi is not against war, she’s a military person (possibly still serving) who is against ‘stupid’ wars that are not won. This is the easiest and most Empire-friendly opposition position, yet it has been trumpeted as a fresh and awe-inspiring.

    As far as I know Tulsi has not criticized Empire itself or brought wider awareness to the human cost of Empire or ‘dirty tricks’ like: Obama’s forgiveness of CIA and NSA; Obama’s turning a UN “No-fly Zone” into a bombing campaign; Obama’s support of Syrian ‘moderate rebels’ and the rise of ISIS; Trump’s failure to follow-thru on North Korean Peace Initiative; Trump’s move of US Embassy to Jerusalem despite UN resolutions; Trump’s apparent attempt to start a war with Iran.

    USA only has fake populists and fake progressives along with their fake news media. The political fakers play on people’s fears – fears that are stirred by controlled media. This didn’t just happen. The Empire has been preparing for a showdown with Russia and China since at least 2013-14 (when Russia prevented USA from bombing Syria and then seized Crimea and supported the Donbas rebels). To better appreciate this point, consider that: in August 2014, after the Donbas rebels had defeated Ukraine, Kissinger wrote an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for USA to look to it’s past glories and winning of the Cold War as a guide to prevailing over Russia and China. Ten months later, Trump entered the race for US President as the MAGA candidate.

  7. Me Myself
    November 2, 2022 at 04:13

    Isn’t the basic solution to American aggregation to remove the current US despotic privileged?

    That seems a tall order.

    Any Ideas?

    • Vera Gottlieb
      November 2, 2022 at 10:52

      If it were doable, I would send the entire US country packing on a one-way ticket to the farthest planet outside our Milky Way. Go fight wars there…

  8. Caliman
    November 1, 2022 at 23:51

    Great article; but way too hopeful, actually, because:

    Picture caption: “President Joe Biden delivering “stand with Ukraine” remarks on May 3 at the Lockheed Martin” … ah, yes, speaking to one of the chief beneficiaries of the war.

    Says it all, no? Every single Dem in Congress, including dear Mr Khanna, voted for those cuddly democrats in Ukraine to defend their eternal and never changing borders. And the price of potential Armageddon with a side of freezing homes and crashing economies around the world is just fine, apparently.

  9. cjonsson1
    November 1, 2022 at 22:39

    The “progressives” who advocated for peaceful negotiations with Russia, given the neocons’ determination to build up a major war with Russia that no one wants, reveals the Democrats as political tools of the party, controlled by neocons.
    No consideration is made toward the effect of continuous war on the public. This pro-war effort is created a very dangerous situation for the world’s future. The public must object and take action to remove the pro-war activists from office in the coming election to save our economy and our safety.

  10. Renate
    November 1, 2022 at 22:27

    For once, the Republicans are right and the Democrats know it is the right thing to do but cave in because they can’t be bipartisan.
    Disgusting, why vote for such morally corrupt people?

  11. November 1, 2022 at 20:51

    My fear is that after the mid-terms which appear to be heading for a GOP landslide, the GOP will gradually diminish their “end the Ukraine conflict” rhetoric. After all, the GOP are puppets of the Empire’s Masters of the Universe just like the Democrats. By the time of the January transfer of power, the GOP story will have taken an about-face and the Blue and Yellow will continue to fly over Congress. I hope such fears do not come true.

  12. Drew Hunkins
    November 1, 2022 at 19:45

    The progressive Dems capitulating about their very tepid and mealy-mouthed letter was one of the more debased and humiliating displays of cowardice I’ve witnessed in quite a while.

    Tulsi did the right thing by jumping ship.

  13. Betsie Weil
    November 1, 2022 at 19:04

    Historical context is everything when we speak about war. And Oliver Stone’s invaluable film, Ukraine on Fire, gives the background of a war that started in 2014 in Kiev with a bloody coup, in which U.S. neocons, especially the infamous neocon Victoria Nuland, who chose the leaders of the coup government, and bragged about being funded by $5 billion in order to pull this off. And to go back even further see Chapter 9 in Douglas Valentine’s book The CIA As Organized Crime, entitled The CIA in Ukraine, and the story of how for 70 years the CIA was grooming or Nazifying a group of Ukrainians, who would serve to target Russians, as they have been doing since the 2014 coup in the Eastern Ukrainian area of Donbass, having killed over 14,000 of them since 2014. This has been absent from our media. The Russian government has helped these Russians form local militias in order to protect themselves, though the attacks continue even to this day. The Russian government also attempted to get European leaders involved in a Minsk Accords in order to end the war, but there was insufficient commitment on the part of leaders such as Germany’s Merkel. Finally in February of this year thousands of Ukrainian troops, trained for eight years by NATO, placed themselves on the contact line in order to slaughter the remaining residents. That’s when the Russian military confronted them. To understand the full picture it’s important to read and understand The Rand Report in this article: Ukraine, It Was All Written in the Rand Corp Plan. In short Donbass was to be the bait for the Ukrainian military to enter the southern border of Russia and overthrow the Russian government, divide up this vast country, and steal its enormous resources, worth trillions of dollars. This hasn’t worked out as planned, but instead has backfired on the collective West. Updates on this situation can be found on such programs as The New Atlas, The Duran, and The Scott Ritter Show.

  14. Brent
    November 1, 2022 at 17:36

    It now costs considerably more to feed every bird, animal, and human on earth.

    • Willow
      November 2, 2022 at 20:28

      Indeed. I read recently that animal surrenders to shelters are up 25 percent in NY because people can’t afford to feed their pets. These tragedies are happening nationwide. Here in California, the lowest price for a 16 pound bag of dry cat food is $16.99. A year ago, that same cat food cost $9.99. And there is no end in sight for these incremental price hikes.

  15. Riva Enteen
    November 1, 2022 at 17:31

    “Since Russia illegally invaded Ukraine, 6,374 civilians are estimated to have been killed, including 402 children, and 9,776 people have been reported injured. ”

    Why, oh why does Cohn not mention the 14,000 civilians killed in the Donbass since the 2014 US-led coup? Russia’s February 24 response to the cry for help from the people of the Donbass was necessary due to failure of the international law that Cohen holds so dear. Minsk I and II, Ukraine bombing civilian evacuation corridors, the power plant and Crimean bridge for starters. Or banning the Russian language on day ONE of the coup, a definition of genocide.

    And of course Cohen, like Hedges, gives the obligatory “Russia’s illegal invasion.” A comment to Hedges’ recent CN article says:

    “It’s impossible, under international law, to defend Russia’s war in Ukraine, as it is impossible to defend the U.S. invasion of Iraq.”

    Tired of the obligatory, “it’s all Putin’s fault” lines in every anti-war piece. What would you have had Putin do? Allow the continued (and rapidly escalating) slaughter of ethnic Russians in the Donbass? Continue to allow NATO forces and weapons to build up on his border? Allow nukes into ukraine?

    Putin laid out his case for war under international law in an hour long speech (done without teleprompter or notes, I might add – our own president can’t speak for five minutes even with a teleprompter) to the world. He clearly connected the precedents of the war to specific UN provisions. Most of the world seems to be agreeing with him, which is why, outside of Europe, few countries have signed on the sanctions and other recriminations.

    • Common Sense
      November 2, 2022 at 16:15

      Thank you ^^

      Entirely agreeing with you!

    • Bob M
      November 4, 2022 at 02:49

      Agree completely.

  16. Eugene Redfield
    November 1, 2022 at 16:53

    “Progressives” are good for one thing only …. press conferences.

    Progressives love to hold press conferences and make statements. That of course leads to the next step which is the fund-raising mailers to rake in cash from the ‘statements’.

    But, anyone who expected this bunch to actually do something was always dreaming. They had never actually done anything in their entire political careers, so why would they start now? They have a nice, comfortable life, with 6-figure salaries and expense account lunches from lobbyists, all of which could be placed in danger were they ever to actually do something real and effective. Their comfortable lives depend on never doing anything more meaningful than making a statement at a press conference that signifies nothing, and thus can be ignored by the truly powerful.

    Progressives have proved to be yet another ‘con-job’ in an America full of con-jobs.

  17. MIke
    November 1, 2022 at 16:10

    It appears that this war started because the US refused to negotiate on the way that the NATO-Russia security agreements were no longer working (for Russia at least). I do not think that in the mind of the Administration you are asking simply for the US to negotiate an end to the Ukraine conflict, instead negotiations with Russia will have to address these larger security concerns. The US must think it has the upper hand and that the governments of our poodles will do whatever we tell them to do.

    • Ed Nelson
      November 1, 2022 at 20:01

      The governments might, but the people are demonstrating in the streets, and I suspect it will the demos will get stronger and louder.

    • Renate
      November 1, 2022 at 22:36

      Russia followed international law and President Putin requested to negotiate but did not even receive a timely response.

  18. robert e williamson jr
    November 1, 2022 at 14:06

    Speaking of about-faces and caving to the opposition. FYI !

    I got an email today from ProPublica, it was about DHS, disinformation, elections, the Biden administration, the GOP, midterm elections and the current administration’s creation of a Disinformation Governance Board.

    Google the ProPublica site hXXps://

    So much for confronting those who threaten elections officials and voters, or is this because the administration considers this work sensitive in nature and have classified such work. Inquiring minds want to know.

    Thanks CN

  19. Coltrane
    November 1, 2022 at 13:01

    “Since Russia illegally invaded Ukraine, 6,374 civilians are estimated to have been killed, including 402 children, and 9,776 people have been reported injured. The war has impacted the global economy and caused inflation, recession and food and gas shortages.”

    This is where I stopped reading. Russia did not invade Ukraine, it intervened to protect the Russian speaking people who just happened to live on the Eastern side of Ukraine. The war did not start in February 2022, but in Febuary 2014, and about 14,000 people, mostly civilians, died while the US and NATO armed and trained Ukrainian Nazi troops to empty Eastern Ukraine of its pro-Russian inhabitants.

      November 2, 2022 at 05:05

      Do you not consider the Normandy Invasion an invasion? ‘Invasion’ is a neutral term.

      • Common Sense
        November 2, 2022 at 16:05

        I agree with Coltrane, especially about the used term “illegal”.

        What can be illegal about saving people from being slaughtered? There was and is almost nobody caring for it.

      • Barry Diament
        November 3, 2022 at 07:02

        Sorry, meant to say “I’d call Russia’s actions self defense.”

    • Riva Enteen
      November 2, 2022 at 17:29

      Tell it like it is! Thanks.

  20. Jeff Harrison
    November 1, 2022 at 12:27

    The US has been trying to breakup Russia for a very long time. The US has also been trying to become the sole global hegemon for some time now. Nothing is going to get better until the US gives up that dream. And the US has made it clear that it’s not going to do that until it gets kicked in the teeth. The world is screwed.

  21. Sharon
    November 1, 2022 at 12:24

    This inspired me to write my D congresswoman, saying abortion rights don’t mean diddly if we’re all dead. And can the question on war be put on the ballot November 8.

  22. Al Caponie
    November 1, 2022 at 11:17

    “international law requires it. ”

    Ah, talking about “International Law” is so Dick Cheney (D). By now of course, everyone knows that “international law” has been replaced by the “rules based order.”

    Hmmm, isn’t ‘rules based order’ a good description of fascism? Of places like Germany of the 1930’s? Would Adolf have disagreed with a ‘rules based order’?

    And of course, any American knows what the rules are …. “They who has the money makes the rules”. And, “might makes right.” That old “international law” stuff just got in the way with all sorts of Nuremberg stuff about how just following orders is no excuse, and other concepts which have no basis in reality in the world of the Biden family hedge fund.

    • Common Sense
      November 2, 2022 at 14:42

      “Hmmm, isn’t ‘rules based order’ a good description of fascism? Of places like Germany of the 1930’s? Would Adolf have disagreed with a ‘rules based order’?”

      You identified the essentials.

      Thank you.

Comments are closed.