After his pre-election comments that a Republican take-over of the House of Representatives might mean defunding Ukraine’s struggle with Russia, Speaker-hopeful Kevin McCarthy sought to reassure national security leaders in his own caucus that his remarks were being taken out of context. That happens a lot with McCarthy. Take an extreme position, see how the winds blow and walk the position back as much as needed.
The war in the Ukraine is not a subject for political maneuvering. This isn’t about gaining or losing votes for the Speaker’s chair. This is about the attempted resurrection of a Russian Empire that threatens Europe. We do not need give Putin partisan divisions he can exploit to the benefit of his aggression.
Withdraw support from Ukraine and increase the likelihood that a NATO member nation will become the next test ground for Putin’s desired re-creation of past glory.
What is crucial as control of Congress is likely split between the parties is that the Ukraine’s historic resistance to Russian aggression not become a pawn in domestic politics. McCarthy implied that he might use support for the Ukraine as leverage to achieve other goals like a tougher policy at the Mexican border. Take what position you like on American immigration policy, but there are things that are not open to political gamesmanship. Support for the struggle against Putin and his grand vision of a reascending Russia must not become a foil in domestic power competition.
Let’s look at what has happened.
Following the fall of the Soviet Union some pundits in the United States subscribed to Francis Fukuyama’s characterization of The End of History, a period in which the one remaining superpower could guide the world and reconstruct it in its own image. For many Russians and especially for the young Vladimir Putin the Soviet Union’s demise ushered in years of humiliation. In the West we felt it possible to ignore Russia’s injured pride and the country’s struggles to right itself after decades of central Soviet rule.
Soon after the United States, becoming preoccupied with its new war on terror and its invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, pursued a policy in Europe of expanding NATO at precisely a time when NATO’s mission needed reexamination. This involved both parties with an initial expansion under Clinton and a new round under George W. Bush.
Did we needlessly provoke the Bear? Very possibly we did, although we also provided Putin with what he could sell as western aggression as he sought to justify a return to Imperial Russian foreign policy. The 2008 announcement from NATO that both Georgia and the Ukraine could be next as candidates for membership certainly had its role in the subsequent Georgian/Russian War and eventually in the invasion and annexation of the eastern Ukraine in Crimea.
With each action Putin measured the response. He tested his ability to provoke and win concessions. Through it all the Ukraine became a special area of focus. There is a deep historical attachment to the Ukraine in the Russian psyche. It is seen as part of the original Russian homeland from which the Tsars build their empire. Russia has always been more empire than nation. The rejection by Ukrainians of Moscow’s preferred regime in 2014 ended Putin’s hopes of control through a puppet government.
Some compare the situation at hand to that which confronted the West in Munich in 1938. The Munich Agreement is often seen as an object lesson in dishonor and a failure to correctly see true national interests. A failure to perceive the true nature of the Nazi regime and an unwillingness to confront the domestically unpopular route of using force so soon after the Great War led to disastrous concessions.
One does not have to embrace the comparison to Munich to see that a pull back of support for the Ukrainian struggle is both a retreat from our values and a harmful foreign policy decision, one that would probably be made largely on the grounds of how much domestic support it could muster for other agenda items.
Ukraine is fighting our battle. It is fighting NATO’s battle. It is doing so with its own blood, absorbing enormous devastation to the country measured both in civilian lives and material destruction. This is not the time to float ambiguous statements about continued support of the Ukrainian war effort. It is not the time for such statements to be carefully walked back as if they meant nothing more than increased accountability for the spending. Does anyone think that such statements do not embolden the bully in the Kremlin? Has our domestic squabbling over every possible issue become so important that it overshadows our national interests?
Withdraw support from Ukraine and increase the likelihood that a NATO member nation will become the next test ground for Putin’s desired re-creation of past glory. Let Article 5 be invoked, and we can look forward to either reneging on our NATO pledge or entering the fighting ourselves. Is it so much better to use that “blank check” to protect Poland?
For those who say Putin would not go that far, Munich may provide guidance after all. The cheers for Chamberlain when he returned to London having secured “peace in our time,” were based on a similar analysis. The concessions made in Munich were not the end of Hitler’s aggression. They never are with a true bully.
Putin has a grand vision. The invasion of Ukraine fits as a piece of an increasingly clear puzzle. We can stop him now or wait, perhaps until Putin has secured a tighter alliance with Xi who is also undoubtedly watching for signs to guide actions with Taiwan.
Do the math. Let’s see how big that check may have to be if we don’t write it now.
From the Bible: Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will be rewarded. Galatians 6:9