Common Ground Committee condemns without condition the naked aggression Russian President Vladimir Putin is pursuing against the sovereign nation of Ukraine. Period. Unlike issues such as health care, immigration or taxes, where a deep divide is expected, Americans must repudiate Putin’s authoritarian tactics, and the world must know that we are united in our repudiation. And so we also condemn efforts to score political points in the debate over the U.S. response. This is the moment when we need to all stand together as one nation, regardless of party, and support efforts to help a free people remain free.
To be clear: That doesn’t mean we all need to be in lockstep agreement on how to proceed or the specifics of that response. We have already seen the United States and our European allies level unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia, an action favored by 67% of U.S. adults, including strong majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents. Hopefully that will be enough to restore peace in Eastern Europe but the impact is not clear and it appears unlikely even the most punishing sanctions will cause Putin to stop his invasion in the short term.
So there will continue to be debate about the best way to counter Putin. But in that debate we must avoid the trap of allowing the Russia-Ukraine problem to become a “left or right” issue, let alone one laced with personal attacks. As the world’s leading democratic power, we need to present a unified stance if we are going to stop the spread of authoritarianism, which is on the rise around the globe.
For some people that may be difficult. More than half of the country disapproves of President Biden’s job performance, but when it comes to stopping Putin’s aggression we need to set aside partisan grievances. There’s no room for over-the-top, politically motivated rhetoric when it comes to foiling Russian aggression – a lack of unified resolve only serves to weaken the U.S. on the global stage while enabling Putin’s worst instincts.
And finding common ground in defense of freedom really shouldn’t be that hard. More than 70% of Americans believe Russia poses a serious or somewhat serious threat to the United States. But we must also recognize and admit that sometimes the search for common ground needs to be set aside. Vladimir Putin has created just such a moment..
Finding common ground is almost always the best strategy to resolve differences. However, when the worst of human nature is the driving force in an adversary capable of inflicting enormous harm and upending the post-World War II world order – which is what we face here – then the conversation must be suspended and strong action must be taken. This does not require anyone to compromise their principles. Indeed, the values we share as Americans are at the heart of the deep and wide common ground we have found. As we debate the correct response to Putin’s actions, let us be willing to listen, collaborate and set aside political motivation. We can then find meaningful agreement while remaining true to our principles, and avoid the type of rhetoric that would send the wrong message to Putin and others who may be testing America’s resolve.
In fact, we believe that by doing this, our leaders will find new strength by rediscovering common ground that had been destroyed by partisan rhetoric. The Russia-Ukraine problem is a rare situation where the political tribes in our nation are fundamentally in agreement. We should use that strength to support our leaders and those of our allies as they pursue a solution to this very difficult challenge.
We have this shared sense of resolve because we all believe in democracy, even though we don’t always agree on how best to implement it. Our system is built on human dignity, civil rights, the rule of law, the right to protest and representative government. Putin denies his people such basic liberties and threatens to spread his brand of autocracy across Eastern Europe. We are already seeing signs of the unity necessary in this time of international conflict.
Look no further than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has traditionally aligned itself more with conservatives.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a serious breach of international law, a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, and an affront to our steadfast belief in a world where democratic countries, following the rule of law and the free enterprise system, can be free and prosper,” said President and CEO Suzanne Clark. “The business community will continue to support the Administration, Congress, and our allies to ensure a swift and meaningful response to Russia’s aggression.”
Democracy cannot prosper when an autocrat is permitted to invade another country and seize territory without cause or provocation. (We know critics will point to President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, but surely we can all agree that the Iraq war was never about a president’s ambition to build an empire.)
We need to put politics aside. Much is being written and said about polls that show three-quarters of Republicans and slightly more than half of independents disapprove of Biden’s handling of the conflict, even though he is doing what they want – imposing sanctions and vowing not to put American soldiers in harm’s way. But we must not allow our focus to be derailed by all-too-common political sniping. Neither we nor the world can afford to make internal disagreement with the president’s strategy the focus rather than the invasion.
In 1948, President Harry Truman and leading Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg agreed that partisan politics should stop “at the water’s edge,” announcing their intention to leave Cold War foreign policy out of partisan politics. Granted, they were not always successful, but we should live up to the ideal, not the implementation.
We are not advocating covering up healthy debate. We are imploring Americans to maintain perspective, stop demonizing, debate without political motivation, and continually refocus their thoughts and words on our united rejection of Putin’s aggression.
The situation in Ukraine is likely to change quickly and often, meaning a unified first approach may not be the final approach to battling authoritarianism. We need to be flexible and willing to compromise positions (but not principles) with those who seek resolution with good faith. That is the oldest American tradition, dating back to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Don’t let politics get in the way of our shared values, nor of the message the world needs to hear from us – that Americans of all parties, races, religions and lifestyles stand united against Vladimir Putin’s criminal and heinous pursuit of prestige and power.
Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen