LONDON — She might have crashed Britain. But can she save the world?
Former U.K. Prime Minister Liz Truss landed in Washington this week to drum up support for Ukraine among skeptical Republican lawmakers.
On both sides of the Atlantic there are hopes Truss can help steer the debate on the American right away from isolationism and toward the active international role espoused by both U.K. prime minister Rishi Sunak and U.S. President Joe Biden.
Truss — no fan of either man — makes for an unlikely diplomatic superhero.
The trip comes barely a year after her humiliating resignation ended a disastrous tenure as Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister. Since the end of her 49-day stint in Downing Street, Truss has tried to carve out a place for herself as a champion of right-wing policies around the world.
She is in Washington this week as part of a delegation of the Conservative Friends of Ukraine (CFU), alongside fellow former Tory leaders Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard. The group has a packed schedule, with around two dozen meetings planned with conservative U.S. lawmakers and think tanks.
The delegation’s arrival coincides with a stand-off between Biden and Republican lawmakers, who are stalling on a request to send billions more dollars in military aid to Ukraine. Congress has twice passed spending bills this fall that omitted funding for the conflict.
Republicans have sought to tie support for Ukraine with measures to strengthen the U.S–Mexican border.
Former President Donald Trump, who is widely expected to secure the Republican nomination for next year’s general election — and whom polling suggests is ahead of Biden in a series of key battleground states — shares this skeptical view of Ukraine aid. Back in May, Trump refused to say even whether he thought Ukraine or Russia should prevail in the war.
A showdown is expected next week with a potential vote in the Senate on Joe Biden’s $106 billion aid package — $61.4 billion of which is earmarked for Ukraine. Senior diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic hope Truss could help break the impasse.
One U.K. official said of the delegation: “They bring a more authentic voice to those kind of Republicans who like speaking to people from their own party — they’re not encumbered by government policy, they don’t have to sort of say nice things about the [Biden] administration.
“If that resonates with Republican lawmakers in a way that governments don’t, then all to the good.”
Showing the right what’s right
Truss’ full-bodied right-wing agenda might have ended in disaster in Downing Street — but it puts her in a good stead with the Republican right.
Far from being nice about the Biden administration, Truss was quick to explicitly endorse the Republican Party ahead of her trip, writing in the Wall Street Journal that she hoped “a Republican will be returned to the White House in 2024.”
She went on: “There must be conservative leadership in the U.S. that is once again bold enough to call out hostile regimes as evil and a threat.”
The CFU said there is no meeting with Trump himself on its agenda. Instead, Jake Lopresti, a Tory MP who is among the delegation, told POLITICO the group was focusing on lawmakers ahead of the expected Senate vote next week. “We’ve targeted Trump-leaning or Trump-supporting Republicans to try and get them to think strategically,” he said.
Lopresti said the case the delegation was making was simple: “If you want to avoid conflict in the future, you have to have a strong deterrent. There’s trouble bubbling up all over the world. It’s a bit like the 1930s.
“It’s cheaper and cleaner and quicker to actually solve it now, send a message — we won’t allow people to walk into other people’s countries in the 21st century. Ukraine is an independent nation, free, democratic. It’s got a right to run its own affairs.”
John E. Herbst, a senior director at the Atlantic Council — and former U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv — said his think tank is supporting the delegation because it agrees Washington has a “vital stake … in making sure Russia loses in Ukraine.”
“When Tory MPs come to the United States to explain to populist Republicans that the policy view of those Republicans on Ukraine is a great mistake, we think they should be supported,” he said.
Notably, the delegation is following in Boris Johnson’s footsteps — another former British PM who has travelled to Washington several times this year to bring the case for supporting Ukraine to wavering Republican lawmakers.
Johnson addressed a lunch organized by a pro-Ukraine think tank deep in the Republican territory of Dallas, Texas, where he told those present that victory for Vladimir Putin would be “terrible in its ramifications.” He evoked China’s claim over Taiwan, a major foreign policy concern for U.S. politicians of all stripes — especially Republicans.
Duncan Smith, who has been sanctioned by China for criticizing its human rights record, similarly warned in a speech to the Heritage Foundation this week that the conflict in Ukraine and China’s threats against Taiwan are “linked inexorably” by a “new axis of totalitarian states.”
“To ignore one is to multiply the danger in the others,” he said. “If Ukraine loses or is forced into some weak settlement with Russia … this in turn will be the strongest signal that the free world will not stand by Taiwan.”
Whether enough Republicans are ready to listen remains to be seen.