November 16, 2022
It turns out that caution was warranted before drawing conclusions about the missile that fell into Poland yesterday, killing two civilians. Today, Polish president Andrzej Duda told reporters that the missile was likely an “unfortunate accident” caused by Ukrainian attempts to counter a group of about 100 Russian missiles launched at Ukraine.
“We have no evidence at the moment that it was a rocket launched by Russian forces,” Duda said. “However, there are many indications that it was a missile that was used by Ukraine’s antimissile defense.”
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) secretary general Jens Stoltenberg agreed that there is currently no evidence that Russia had deliberately attacked Poland. Poland is a member of NATO, whose mutual defense pact requires members to see any attack on one NATO member as an attack on all of them. Nonetheless, Stoltenberg reiterated that, at the end of the day, the blame for the errant missile still fell on Russia. “Russia bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine.”
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky says he’s not convinced of this explanation.
Stoltenberg also participated today in a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, formed in April for defense chiefs and ministers from those countries supporting Ukraine to coordinate military assistance and train Ukrainian soldiers to use it. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin convened the group’s seventh meeting, days after the U.S. pledged more assistance that will bring its total so far up to $18.6 billion, and seven other countries also either delivered or pledged more military assistance.
Austin praised the Ukrainian determination “to live in a free and sovereign country” and said the group would discuss what is necessary to “ensure that Ukraine can continue to consolidate its gains and keep its momentum on the battlefield even throughout the winter.” At a press conference afterward, Austin called the meeting “highly successful” and noted that Sweden today offered another $287 million, Spain is sending 2 more HAWK launchers and missiles, and Canada is sending another $500 million in assistance and more in winter gear. Germany is sending more defense supplies, artillery, and ammunition. Greece and Poland are sending more ammunition as well.
Austin concluded: “[O]ur resolve is only strengthened by Russia’s indefensible attacks on civilian targets, and we’ll continue to stand together in common purpose because no member of this contact group wants to live in a world where big countries bulldoze their peaceful neighbors, and we won’t just accept Putin’s imperial aggression and erosion of international norms as some kind of new normal. Instead, we will continue to stand up for Ukraine’s inalienable rights to defend itself. We’ll continue to strengthen our unity and resolve. We’ll continue to show the power of partnership.”
Taking the microphone, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said that Russia failed to achieve its strategic objectives with a quick strike at Ukraine in February. Then they changed their operational objectives to seize the Donbas. They failed. Then they tried to seize Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. They failed there, too.
“So across the entire front line trace of some 900 or so kilometers, the Ukrainians have achieved success after success after success and the Russians have failed every single time. They’ve lost strategically, they’ve lost operationally, and I repeat, they lost tactically.”
Milley said that Russia is now settling in to inflict suffering on the civilian population with strikes designed to cut electricity and heat. This, he points out, is a war crime.
Milley noted that Russia could stop the war at any time, and he pledged that the U.S. would stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes to keep them free, sovereign, independent with their territory intact.” That being said, he warned that while “the Russian military is suffering tremendously,” it is not going to withdraw entirely from Ukraine any time soon. He suggested that with the military “really hurting bad” there might be a possibility of a political solution to get Putin to withdraw his troops.
Meanwhile, election fallout continues.
The Republican civil war between the far right and the medium right is playing out in leadership struggles.
In the Senate, Rick Scott (R-FL) launched a challenge to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) from the right, with Trump’s support. Scott told other senators that “it’s time for bold change.” For his part, McConnell in March struck out at Scott’s plan for the party, saying “We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years.” One senator called today’s meeting “a rhetorical slugfest.” McConnell won the secret vote by 37 to 10 with 1 senator abstaining.
The media has now projected that the Republicans will take control of the House, where Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is also facing a challenge from the far right as he is seeking to become House speaker. Unlike Republican Senate leadership, though, the House speaker is elected by the full House. Yesterday the House Republican conference nominated McCarthy for speaker, over far-right MAGA Republican Andy Biggs (R-AZ). Biggs got 31 votes to McCarthy’s 188, suggesting that the far-right “Freedom Caucus” can command only 31 votes.
McCarthy has courted the far right by promising to strip Democrats of power, kicking Representatives Eric Swalwell (D-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) off the House Intelligence Committee, for example. Still, he needs 218 votes to become speaker, and MAGA Republican Matt Gaetz (R-FL) told CNN that McCarthy does not have the votes.
The election of a House speaker can be a way for different factions to test out their power at the beginning of a session. If McCarthy can’t muster the necessary votes, the speakership could open to a far more moderate Republican who could get Democratic votes. That shift might, in fact, look good to a number of Republicans who see how thoroughly voters in some areas rejected extremism in the midterms. Or the need for more moderate votes could swing McCarthy away from the MAGA crowd. It’s not clear yet, but it might tell us a lot. In 1856, at a time when party alignments were shifting markedly, it took the House two months and 133 ballots finally to choose Representative Nathaniel Banks of Massachusetts, and by then, everyone knew exactly who backed whom.
Other fallout from the election suggests the election has created some immediate results. After asking Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to delay consideration of a bill to protect marriage equality until after the election, twelve—but only twelve—Senate Republicans have voted with all the Democrats to advance a bill to protect marriage equality for same-sex and interracial couples. The measure repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage under federal laws as between one man and one woman, and guarantees that states recognize marriages that were legal in the states where they were performed.
“Love is love,” President Biden said in a statement as he returned from Indonesia, “and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love…. The Respect for Marriage Act will ensure that LGBTQI+ couples and interracial couples are respected and protected equally under federal law, and provide more certainty to these families since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs [v. Jackson Women’s Health, which challenged judicial protection of marriage equality].”
Biden thanked the members of Congress who worked together to move the measure forward, and asked them to “send this bill to my desk where I will promptly sign it into law.”