Op/Ed

Editorial: Are MAGA supporters intent on helping Putin conquer Ukraine?

ANGELO LYNN

Are the far-right MAGA Republicans in the House, which supposedly make up a minority and includes House Speaker Mike Johnson, intent on helping Russian President Vladimir Putin overrun and occupy Ukraine? And, if so, have they considered the consequences, or are they — along with MAGA voters — just so completely clueless of world history they can’t see what’s inevitable?

The question arises as Speaker Johnson has declared the House won’t even allow for a vote on the $90 billion appropriations bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate in an overwhelming 70-29 vote. The bill provides $60.1 billion in essential military aid to Ukraine, as well as $14 billion in aid to Israel and $10 billion for humanitarian help to civilians in conflict zones, including Gaza.

Conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, who is no friend of President Biden’s policies nor of most Democratic positions, nonetheless lambastes the GOP for its embrace of Trumpist-inspired isolationism. 

“On paper, the 70-to-29 vote looks like a bipartisan embrace of embattled democratic allies,” Stephens writes. “But it marks the moment when Republicans reverted to the isolationism of the original America First Committee of pre-World War II infamy. A majority of the G.O.P. Senate conference, including onetime Ukraine hawks like Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton, voted against the aid, mostly, they said, because it wasn’t paired with border-security measures.

“That’s the same bill they voted against last week — a bill patiently negotiated over months by one of the most conservative Republicans in the Senate, Oklahoma’s James Lankford. The cynicism would be breathtaking if it weren’t so predictable coming from the Trumpified right.”

Stephens then highlights some of the stupefying reasoning Senate Republicans gave for voting against the measure, mirroring the flawed thinking in the House by Trump supporters:

• Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, Stephen’s notes, opposed the bill because giving aid to Israel to defeat Hamas “was incompatible” with also giving any aid to help the civilians in Gaza, who desperately need food, medicine, housing and medical help.

• Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson admitted that while Putin was “an evil war criminal,” Russia was certain to win the war with Ukraine, so there was no reason to prolong Ukraine’s agony. (Stephens points out this same logic was used by Republican isolationists prior to WWII, arguing that Hitler was sure to win so why get involved. Stephens also noted Ukraine was holding its own until its ammunition and defense capabilities were seriously depleted and not resupplied because of Republican objections.

• Ohio Senator J.D. Vance jumped straight to partisan politics saying a vote to support aid to Ukraine “represents an attempt by the foreign policy blob/deep state to stop President Trump from pursuing his desired policy.” That policy, Trump has indicated, would be to reverse President’s Biden support of Ukraine and allow Putin to run over Ukraine — giving his friend Putin the victory he wants to rebuild Russia as a dictatorial world power — and once-again become a major challenger to the US and its allies.

For Republicans who long supported foreign military support of American allies throughout the Reagan-Bush eras (and long before) in which they understood America’s interests abroad were meant to reinforce peace, and provide stability and economic prosperity at home, the abrupt change to isolationism should seem nonsensical, if not horrific. For the past almost 90 years America and its allies have fought a world war and regional conflicts in the name of democracy; so nations were free from the tyranny of invading dictators like Russia’s Putin. This is particularly true of a western-leaning nation like Ukraine, which is integrating into the European Union and aspires to be a NATO member.

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It’s shocking, pathetic really, that so many rightwing Republicans would willfully allow Putin’s army to ransack Ukraine’s territory, subjugating its 43 million people under Putin’s ruthless authority. Have these Republicans considered the slaughter that Russia’s troops would wage on Ukrainian soldiers; the millions of people who would be killed and imprisoned at the slightest provocation against Putin’s rule?

But perhaps that’s being overly sympathetic, or realistic, for Republicans to contemplate? As Stephens’ suggests, in his conservative perspective, the primary reason to aid Ukraine is not to defend the Ukrainian people, but for America’s “own self-interest.”

First, he makes a vivid analogy of why tying Ukrainian aid to the U.S. southern border policy is idiotic: “There is no conceivable reason the fate of Ukraine, a vital U.S. interest, should hinge on our border policy, however broken, any more than a patient should put off getting a skin cancer removed until he loses 50 pounds. It is an idiotic linkage guaranteed to do harm.”

Then he recalls when Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg, a Michigan Republican, “gave a landmark Senate speech (in January 1945) now remembered as the moment when his party finally began to put its reflexive isolationism behind it. ‘We still propose to help create the postwar world on a basis which shall stop aggressors for keeps and, so far as humanly possible, substitute justice for force among freemen,” Vandenberg said. “We propose to do it primarily for our own sake.’”

“The point of helping Ukraine defend itself against its despotic foe — like the point of defending Israel, or Taiwan, or NATO members rich or poor — isn’t altruism,” Stephens’ emphasizes, “it’s self-interest rightly understood. The kind of understanding that prewar isolationists like Vandenberg gained only from the ashes and agony of a world war. For the G.O.P. to now lose that understanding is as much a disgrace to (the party) as it is, potentially, a disaster for us all.”

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While Stephen’s takes on members of his preferred party, Democrats are right to chastise Vermont’s Sens. Bernie Sanders and Peter Welch for being two of the few Senate Democrats to oppose the aid, though their reasoning is at least credible. Their objection was not to the $60.1 billion to Ukraine, but to the $14 billion of additional aid to Israel, even though $10 billion of the $90 billion total allocation would also be used to aid desperate civilians in Gaza.

Sanders and Welch, and Rep. Becca Balint when and if the bill is called for a House vote, must distinguish between a bill that is perfect, and one that is, at this critical moment, the best compromise possible. 

Additional US aid for Ukraine has languished since this past fall as President Biden and Congress has labored unsuccessfully to pass supplemental military aid, even as Ukraine’s front lines are faltering and thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are facing a Russian army emboldened by North Korea’s and Iran’s munitions and America’s dysfunctional response caused by Republican opposition. The Ukrainian military is desperate for continued military firepower if it is to defend itself, and if America’s billions of military aid contributed so far is not to have been spent for naught.

We agree America should curtail its military aid to Israel if President Netanyahu continues his indiscriminate bombing of Gaza and inflicting mass casualties on civilians, but this bill is not the time for a protest vote, nor it is a time for Democrats to express resistance to President Biden’s election campaign in Michigan.

For Democrats to succeed as a party that has the nation’s and world’s best interests at heart, they first need a cohesive vote on aid to Ukraine in the hopes that it arrives soon enough to prevent major Russian advances. Then they need a solid show of overwhelming support for Biden against what would be a disastrous second term if Trump were elected — that includes on every issue from foreign affairs to climate change to income and educational equity to women’s rights, voters’ rights, to equal justice under a nation governed by the rule of law — not by a dictator who hopes to bend the law to his personal gain.

How to send aid to Gaza and contain Hamas, while reigning in Netanyahu’s worst impulses, will require imaginative legislation and policymaking. It’s a tall task, but it should not be one that also dooms other pieces of legislation that are far more critical to America’s national interests.

Sanders and Welch should make such political statements on X that post headlines of the moment for the few, but leave such grandstanding out of crucial legislation. The priority today is to pass aid to Ukraine and demonstrate America remains a reliable force for freedom.

Angelo Lynn

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