Will the U.S. Abandon Ukraine? It Could Happen.
Putin is counting on Trump 2.0.
“In a little over a week, Ukrainian forces retook Izyum and dozens more occupied towns in a lightning offensive that shocked Western and Ukrainian officials with its speed, carrying almost all the way to the border, and sending Russian troops and pro-Russian separatist forces fleeing for their lives.” —Jack Detsch, Foreign Policy
A Ukrainian victory would, arguably, be the most significant U.S. foreign policy triumph in decades. Despite some initial hesitations, the Biden administration has forged and led a remarkable international coalition, and has supplied many of the arms that now appear to be turning the tide.
So this may seem like an odd time to raise the question: How reliable an ally are we, really? Is is possible that the United States could bail on Ukraine if the war drags on?
Vladimir Putin certainly thinks so. He may be counting on it.
Of course, this may be another one of his epic miscalculations, but his hope is not baseless.
Consider this report from Defense One:
Conservative groups are lobbying members of Congress to vote against the White House’s request for additional money for Ukraine, arguing that the administration is asking for a blank check with no long-term plan to end the war.
The White House announced Friday that it would request an additional $13.7 billion to help Ukraine between October and December, including $11.7 for security and economic assistance and $2 billion to reduce energy costs that have increased during the war. Congress has already approved two supplemental funding packages, for $13.6 billion in March and $40 billion in May.
This is a decidedly new look for the venerable Heritage Foundation, which this week seemed to formalize its break with the last vestiges of Reagan-era foreign policy, as its new president embraced neo-isolationist “National Conservativism.”
Back in May, David French wrote about Heritage’s shift on Ukraine:
Resistance against Ukraine aid is growing on the right, and the center of right-wing resistance is no longer Tucker Carlson but one of the most powerful think tanks in Washington, the Heritage Foundation
Heritage’s opposition would be troubling enough on the merits, but compounding the problem, Heritage (a think tank, remember) has abandoned careful analysis in support of cheap, easily rebutted MAGA talking points. It’s sad to see.
Heritage, however, is hardly alone.
Defense One also noted that Russ Vought, president of the Center for Renewing America and Trump’s former director of the Office of Management and Budget, also ripped the Biden administration’s request for more aid for Ukraine. As Dana Milbank noted back in December 2020, Vought is a key player in the MAGAverse. While Vought’s tenure at OMB was notably shambolic, Milbank wrote, “what Russ Vought is very good at is sabotage. He’s sabotaging national security, the pandemic response and the economic recovery — all to make things more difficult for the incoming Biden administration.”
And then, of course, there is the right-wing media.
An article in The Federalist on Thursday slammed “McConnell and his fellow swamp creatures” for refusing to “put America’s security interests ahead of Ukraine’s.” Fox News’ Tucker Carlson has not yet weighed in on the latest ask, but said in May that “leaders believe protecting Ukraine is more important than protecting you.”
Here’s Tucker from… last Friday (!):
The right’s anti-Ukraine rhetoric is hardly new. Where the commentary has not been overtly pro-Putin, it has been aggressively anti-anti-Putin.
On February 22, right-wing commentator/influencer Candace Owens urged her millions of followers to read Putin’s speech from earlier in the week.
“I suggest every American who wants to know what’s *actually* going on in Russia and Ukraine, read this transcript of Putin’s address. As I’ve said for month — NATO (under direction from the United States) is violating previous agreements and expanding eastward. WE are at fault.”
On his podcast, Steve Bannon praised Putin for being “anti-woke,” and for denying LGBTQ rights. Longtime Trumpist consigliere and trickster Roger Stone also repeated Russian talking points, and insisted that “Biden wants war more than the Ukrainians want war.”
Trumpist rock star Charlie Kirk told his millions of followers that “it feels as if Putin is going into places that want him.” (Like many of his other takes, this one has aged poorly.)
Ohio’s shape-shifting J.D. Vance also picked up the clear signals from MAGA World, when he declared, “I got to be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other.”
But no one has been as aggressive as Fox News’s top-rated host.
“It might be worth asking ourselves, since it is getting serious, what is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much?” Carlson famously asked earlier this year. “Has Putin ever called me a racist? Has he threatened to get me fired for disagreeing with him? Has he shipped every middle-class job in my town to Russia?” he continued. “Is he teaching my children to embrace racial discrimination? Is he making fentanyl? Is he trying to snuff out Christianity? Does he eat dogs?”
For months, Carlson has been a fixture on Russian state television, so Putin has some reason to think that his rhetoric represents the sentiments of MAGA America. And, perhaps of its next ruling party.
So far, however, MAGA’s hostility to Ukraine has had only a limited impact on GOP congressional support. Only 57 House Republicans and 11 GOP senators voted against a $40 billion supplemental bill in May.
But, as Defense One notes, “stories in conservative media coupled with right-leaning groups lobbying lawmakers to vote against the additional funds are likely to increase the number of Republicans who oppose this request compared to previous supplementals.…”
The directional arrow of the GOP should be obvious by now. This is what I wrote in Politico back in February:
Conservative politics today is dominated not by elected leaders, but by the entertainers. Tucker Carlson is exponentially more influential than Mitch McConnell…
And the influence of that entertainment wing is magnified by the ascendency of the America First isolationism championed by Donald Trump, whose dominance in the GOP has meant the virtual eclipse of the party’s once robust internationalist wing.
The reality is that, despite Tom Cotton’s saber-rattling, there is really no longer any appetite among Republicans for a Reagan-esque tear-down-that wall approach to foreign policy. For the most part, the old Cold Warriors have been purged from the party. In their place have risen Trump-inspired acolytes like J.D. Vance, the Ukraine-indifferent Ohio Senate candidate…
The animus of the right has been turned inward.
So, the Putin-is-a-savvy-genius wing of the party may be small at the moment, but as we have seen over and over, the MAGA voices are the Republican id these days.
Exit question: Since Putin launched his genocidal invasion, has a single prominent Republican broken with Trump over his bromance with the Russian thug? Or his hostility to NATO? Remember:
There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.
Last year, President Trump suggested a move tantamount to destroying NATO: the withdrawal of the United States.
Putin has gotten a lot wrong lately, but he undoubtedly thinks that if he can wait out the Biden presidency, he could do business with Trump 2.0… with all that means for the fate of Ukraine.
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The DOJ is moving on January 6th
Your BFD of the Day—“Justice Dept. Issues 40 Subpoenas in a Week, Expanding Its Jan. 6 Inquiry”:
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has issued about 40 subpoenas over the past week seeking information about the actions of former President Donald J. Trump and his associates related to the 2020 election and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, according to people familiar with the situation.
Two top Trump advisers, Boris Epshteyn and Mike Roman, had their phones seized as evidence, those people said.
The department’s actions represent a substantial escalation of a slow-simmer investigation two months before the midterm elections, coinciding with a separate inquiry into Mr. Trump’s hoarding of sensitive documents at his residence in Florida, Mar-a-Lago.
Via CNN: “January 6 committee set to meet in person on Tuesday as it debates whether to invite Trump and Pence to appear.”
Our Fragile Democracy
My colleague Will Saletan highlighted this disturbing poll.
The findings from this poll shatter the myth that Americans overwhelmingly agree on a common set of democratic values around checks and balances on elected leaders, protection of minority rights and freedom of speech…
In this poll, significant minorities of Republicans and Democrats supported non-democratic norms in about equal percentages — and Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say presidents should be able to remove judges when their decisions go against the national interest.
The Politics of Fear
Matt Yglesias highlighted another remarkable poll:
Let’s review: 40+ percent of Republicans say they fear:
A total economic collapse
The U.S. will no longer be a global superpower
A total breakdown of law and order
The federal government will confiscate citizens’ firearms (!)
The U.S. will no longer be a democracy (41 percent of Ds share that fear)
The U.S. will be invaded by a foreign country
Additionally, 38 percent of Rs fear (hope?) states will secede; and 36 percent fear a civil war between Rs and Ds…. while 31 percent fear a race war and the prospect of a “communist dictatorship.”
Ladies and gentleman, I give you the GOP 2024 platform.
Free Money for Me But Not for Thee
In today’s Bulwark, Bill Lueders writes that blowback to student loan forgiveness from Republicans who had their PPP loans forgiven sends a fraught message to voters ahead of the midterms.
Now that the heat of the initial debate has dissipated, it’s worth having a look at the arguments Republicans have levied against the program—as well as their own acceptance of government money through PPP. Is their debt relief any more or less justified than that which is now going to relieve student loan debt? And, as we head into the midterms, what is the political message they want to convey to the people who stand to benefit from student loan debt forgiveness?
“The Plot Against The King”