A make-or-break week in Washington has the world on pins and needles 

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A make-or-break week in Washington has the world on pins and needles 

There are many make-or-break moments unfolding in the nation’s capital this week, colliding like atoms in an unstable galaxy. 

Thirty-two heads of state are in Washington for NATO’s 75th anniversary to discuss war and peace at a dangerous time in global affairs.

For the U.S., organizing a summit of more than 30 nations is already a master juggling act. But this event occurs as President Biden faces growing pressure from his Democratic colleagues to quit the 2024 presidential race because of his dismal performance in his recent debate against Donald Trump, his falling poll numbers, and concerns over his mental acuity.   

Biden has vowed to stay in the race. And he showed strength at the summit, honoring outgoing NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He announced at the summit as well that new air defense systems are coming to Ukraine. 

For Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, this is a make-or-break week in his war of exhaustion against Russia, which invaded his country in February 2022.  

He comes to the U.S. begging for continued support to beat back a summer offensive by Russia, and a pathway to membership in NATO, against the backdrop of a deadly Russian attack on a children’s hospital in Kyiv that killed dozens. 

NATO leaders are worried about what happens if Trump wins in November, given his disdainful attitudes toward NATO and Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, Trump is under public pressure from Zelensky to lay out a plan for Ukraine should he become the next president, after expressing optimism he could settle the Russia-Ukraine conflict diplomatically in a day.  

European leaders will be watching closely as the Republican and Democratic national conventions unfold. All the while, conservative policy wonks in America are busy laying out a blueprint for governing, one version of which is the controversial Project 2025, authored by the Heritage Foundation. Trump has yet to embrace it. 

Amid all this turmoil, American voters are caught in the middle of a muddle during a summer heat wave, and are expressing increasing concerns about the economy and the direction of the country.  

When it comes to NATO and the cost of the war in Ukraine, voters are divided.  

As of May, according to polling by Pew Research, “about a third of Americans (31 percent) say the U.S. is providing too much support to Ukraine. Roughly equal shares of U.S. adults say the U.S. is providing about the right amount (25 percent) or not enough support (24 percent) to Ukraine, while 18 percent say they are not sure.” Confidence in Zelensky has dropped, significantly, according to the same poll. 

How much money America spends on Ukraine, and how that money is tracked, is also a big issue for Congress, which is paying close attention to the tab. From the date of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, through July 1, the U.S. government has supplied over $50 billion in military assistance to Ukraine. And more is coming, in a $2.3 billion package

Tough questions lie ahead on domestic and foreign affairs; as foreign policy expert and former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder recently wrote: “The 32 leaders of NATO have an opportunity in Washington this week to state clearly and definitely that they have a clear strategic objective: to ensure Russia’s defeat by having Ukraine as a member of NATO.”  

But will they? Will Congress be able to stay focused on Ukraine, or will the Biden saga eclipse everything in America and the world and give Russia an opportunity to benefit from the distraction? 

Can our nation hold together through two political conventions without tearing ourselves apart? 

How we juggle all these questions is up to all of us.  

Tara D. Sonenshine is senior nonresident fellow at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She served as U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs in the Obama administration.