The problem with Republican isolationism

Abandoning Ukraine is no way to make America great again.

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin via videoconference on Dec. 7, 2021. Credit: Presidential Executive Office of Russia via Wikimedia Commons.
U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin via videoconference on Dec. 7, 2021. Credit: Presidential Executive Office of Russia via Wikimedia Commons.
Clifford D. May
Clifford D. May is the founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), as well as a columnist for “The Washington Times.”

A growing number of Republicans now think the United States should abandon Ukraine and—by extension—give Russian dictator Vladimir Putin a great and historic victory.

CNN/SSRS poll released earlier this month quantified the trend: 71 percent of GOP voters don’t want Congress to authorize additional funding for Ukraine. Fifty-nine percent think the United States has done enough to help Ukrainians defend their independence, their homeland and their families.

By contrast, 62% of Democrats support new funding for Ukraine, and 61% say the United States should do more to prevent Putin from winning the barbaric war he launched in February of 2022.

How is it that Democrats are embracing the Reagan Doctrine—assisting a nation fighting for its freedom for reasons both strategic and moral—while more and more Republicans (MAGA Republicans?) are rejecting it?

Perhaps you think I’m living in the past because the Soviet Union lies on the ash heap of history and international communism threatens us no more. Let’s examine those propositions.

Putin has said that the collapse of his native Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century.” Which suggests he’d like to resurrect it in some form.

Days before his invasion of Ukraine, he and Xi Jinping, head of China’s ruling Communist Party, forged a partnership “without limits.”

Putin may not quote Karl Marx on the labor theory of value, but he does admire Joseph Stalin, the brutal Soviet Communist dictator. Just last week, a 26-foot-tall Stalin statue was erected in Russia’s Pskov region which borders Estonia, a former Soviet possession, now a NATO member.

So, while Putin may not be a communist, he is a fellow traveler. He’s also a sworn enemy of the United States. His other great friend is Ali Khamenei, dictator of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who for decades has vowed “Death to America!”

The two men are cooperating to expand the Kremlin’s supply of drones and other weapons useful for killing Ukrainian men, women and children. Simultaneously, Tehran is seeking to purchase Su-35 fighter jets, helicopters and other military equipment from Russia.

These Russian, Iranian and Chinese dictators believe their power is rising while that of the United States and its allies is declining.

A few data points in support of their view: In 2020, Beijing deprived the people of Hong Kong of their freedoms in violation of clear treaty obligations. The American-led “international community” shrugged. In 2021, the United States fled from the Taliban (and al-Qaeda) in Afghanistan. Putin perhaps thought: “If a bunch of ragtag terrorists can make Americans run, why am I hesitating?”

Less than a year later, he invaded Ukraine. He expected a skirmish, akin to his invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, and his invasion and seizure of two slices of Georgia in 2008—violations of international law that brought no serious consequences.

Ukrainians fought harder and better than expected. President Biden—credit where it’s due—rallied NATO members to provide Ukrainians with weapons and ammunition. But he never explained clearly and persuasively what was at stake. And, wary of “provoking” Putin, the delivery of materiel has been slow and unsteady.

Biden’s advisers probably hoped Putin would seek an “off-ramp”—negotiations leading to a frozen conflict. He hasn’t.

Instead, Putin has been waiting for Americans to do what most Republicans appear eager to do now: Grow tired. Give up. Move on.

If Americans do that, at least it will be the end of the story, right? No, not right.

Should Putin prevail in Ukraine, expect him to utilize Ukrainian resources—natural and human—to continue to expand his neo-Soviet empire. Belarus is already a vassal state. What sovereignty Georgia and Armenia have left will likely be erased. Kazakhstan may be on the menu.

Putin restored Russian clout to the Middle East by helping, along with Tehran, to prop up Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s mass-murdering dictator. President Obama made that easy for him.

But the big prize for Putin would be to crack NATO. How costly do you think it would be—in blood and treasure—to turn back a Russian blitzkrieg into Lithuania? How long before 59% of GOP voters say we’ve “done enough” to support NATO?

That would be an especially good time for Mr. Xi to take Taiwan. He’ll figure, not without justification, that Americans are unlikely to do more for Taiwan than they did for Ukraine.

Following that, expect Japan, South Korea and other nations of the Indo-Pacific to acquiesce to Beijing’s hegemony.

There’s more. Russian and Chinese influence has been growing in Latin America and even more in Africa, where both countries have been implementing neo-imperialist policies.   

In the Middle East, Beijing has facilitated a détente between Iran’s rulers and the Saudis who, until recently, were among America’s most important strategic partners.

And last month, a combined Russian and Chinese naval force carried out a naval patrol near Alaska. One year ago next month, a similar flotilla—including a cruiser-destroyer that can launch more than 100 guided missiles—approached Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Testing the waters?

A question for my friends who identify as MAGA Republicans: Do you not see that making America “harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend”—Bernard Lewis’ apt phrase—is no way to make America great again? 

“Peace through strength” is the policy to which you should want the United States to return. That implies building and maintaining sufficient American military might to deter America’s enemies. It also implies supporting America’s friends who are fighting America’s enemies so that “America First” does not end up as “American Alone.” More than 71% of Republicans should understand that.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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