Some Republicans such as Vivek Ramaswamy argue it’s time to cut loose from Ukraine. He argued during the recent presidential debate we should instead focus on securing our southern border and that involvement in Ukraine distracts from the central issue — China.
He’s right about the southern border and he’s right about keeping China front and center, but he’s dead wrong on Ukraine, just not for the reason offered by his on-stage antagonists. The real reason is China and American credibility.
The Heritage Foundation takes a more nuanced approach by calling for ending Ukraine funding unless there’s a plan for victory. Sounds superficially reasonable, if you can define “victory.” Is it Putin hanging upside down next to his mistress a la Mussolini? Ukraine restored to its pre-invasion boundaries? Ukraine restored plus Crimea? Or something else?
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Got a plan? Everyone has plans. But, as Mike Tyson observed, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Winston Churchill in his famous “Blood, toil, tears, and sweat” speech said, “You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war…You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory.” That’s a defensible plan. Churchill defined victory as the utter destruction of Hitlerism, but victory, synonymous with winning, remains undefined in the Ukrainian context.
Chris Christie argued for staying in Ukraine because Putin is a monster. No denying Putin’s place in the pantheon of history’s nightmares. One can make a moral case for opposing him and a national security case for opposing aggressive authoritarians. Or one can side with Ramaswamy in arguing the U.S. is again foolishly acting as the world’s lead policeman.
Reality check: Europe won’t implode if Russia and Ukraine announce a ceasefire tomorrow, exhausted having brawled like a pair of super heavyweights. Some warn that if Ukraine’s war ends prematurely then Putin’s imperialistic gaze will fall on his next victim.
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Seems reasonable in theory, but nonsensical in practice. Russia’s army is spent. Russia’s economy is spent. Russia is spent. Win, lose, or draw, Russia’s adventurism against European targets is over even if Putin avoids the Mussolini treatment.
Conversely, while Ukrainian forces are advancing, there’s no guarantee NATO’s support will lead to victory soon. Wars of attrition are rarely swift. Russia’s lines could collapse tomorrow, or hold indefinitely.
So, why is Ramaswamy and the rest of the cut-and-run crowd wrong? Because the United States has an inglorious history of doing just that. Remember Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson’s world-class screwup followed by Richard Nixon’s handing Ho Chi Min the keys to Saigon?
More recently, remember Iraq? Rumor has it, the government stands, but mostly because Iran wishes it so.
And most recently we have the Biden Kabul Bungle. Undercut by Joe Biden and contrary to the advice of, well, everyone, exit the U.S. Army in a hurry. Enter the Taliban, stage left.
Meanwhile, we press the likes of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines to resist China’s leering advances. The U.S. promises aid while the U.S. Navy sails the waters and makes port calls. But China is nearby offering trade deals, investment, bribes, and subtle suggestions of troubles ahead if their quarry resists. Who to believe?
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It’s a lot easier to believe the Chinese when America makes grand promises of undying support as it has with Ukraine – and then bolts when it tires of the affair. Everyone in Asia understands China takes the long view. Having made the commitment to Ukraine, the United States must remain steadfast.
To help Ukraine, to be sure, but far more to show America’s potential allies the United States can, sometimes, be trusted. This is keeping China front and center.
JD Foster is the former chief economist at the Office of Management and Budget and former chief economist and senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He now resides in relative freedom in the hills of Idaho.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Tampa Free Press.
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