Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the White House has held regular calls with prominent people in the Washington foreign policy establishment, trying to keep the heads of think tanks and prominent experts apprised of what the administration is thinking and planning in countering Moscow. The goal of the regular calls has been to inform, persuade, and shape the analysis produced by this town’s foreign policy elite.
Everyone I spoke to who participated in these White House briefing calls was vociferous in praising the Biden administration’s policy on Ukraine. They wanted to give the president and his advisors credit for this and credit for that. They really had done a terrific job, everyone said, of saving Ukraine and acting nimbly in a rapidly evolving, predictably unpredictable conflict. But as soon as we went off the record or spoke on background, the truth flowed like a mighty river.
It turns out that Washington’s foreign policy set has grown increasingly frustrated with the Biden administration’s Ukraine policy. What is it, exactly? On one hand, the administration has been consistent in its line on Ukraine: Ukraine must win, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine, this must not turn into World War III, and we must defend and strengthen the rules-based (and American-designed) international order.