Former President Donald Trump went on CNN last week and said something sensible. When asked if he wanted Ukraine to win the war, Trump replied he didn’t think about the war in terms of winning and losing. His priority was to stop the killing on both sides by ending the war. Naturally, he boasted he could end the war in 24 hours, surely a hyperbolic claim, though if the U.S. ended its massive package of military and financial aid, Ukraine would likely be forced to sue for peace, and quickly.
Interestingly, the CNN anchor badgered Trump, trying to get him to say he favored Ukraine over Russia and that Ukraine had to win. Trump, to his credit, was having none of it. Nor would Trump declare that Putin was a war criminal for the sensible reason that such a declaration would make a diplomatic settlement much more problematic.
Readers here know I’m no fan of Trump. I think he’s a dangerous con man without a clue about what public service is about. But I give him credit for not giving the easy answers, the expected ones, that Ukraine must win, that Russia must lose, that Putin is a war criminal, and that as long as Ukraine wins it really doesn’t matter how many people die in this disastrous war.
The CNN anchor never bothered to define what “winning” looks like for Ukraine. I assume she meant something like this: All Russian troops expelled from Ukraine; democracy flourishing in Ukraine as the country is rebuilt, in part from sanctions put on Russia; Ukraine eventually joining NATO; and perhaps even the end of Vladimir Putin’s power and his possible execution as a war criminal. Such a decisive win for Ukraine is unlikely; what I see is more stalemate, more dead and wounded on both sides, more destruction, and escalatory pressure as the war continues without a clear end in sight.
I can’t fault Trump for wanting to stop the killing in the Russia-Ukraine War. I also can’t fault him for refusing to take the bait and declaring Ukraine must win. It matters because a lot of Americans find Trump attractive because he’s willing to pose as antiwar. Clearly, he’s an alternative to the Democrats and Joe Biden who insist on prosecuting the war for reasons that I believe are largely cynical and self-interested.
Americans are war-weary. Very few Americans, I think, truly want a war with Russia or China. Trump is a serial liar, a venal manipulator, and a selfish braggart, but he doesn’t want World War III. Who knows: that very fact alone might be enough to win him four more years in the Oval Office.
Are you listening, Democrats?