OpinionColumn

The price of American leadership

It’s high, but the value is higher.

Damage to a residential building in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, following a Russian airstrike on Oct. 9, 2022. Credit: National Police of Ukraine via Wikimedia Commons.
Damage to a residential building in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, following a Russian airstrike on Oct. 9, 2022. Credit: National Police of Ukraine via Wikimedia Commons.
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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 fool is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing,” Oscar Wilde famously quipped. In Milwaukee last week, the Republican candidates for president—minus one Donald J. Trump—quarreled over both the price and value of American support for Ukraine.

Only Nikki Haley crunched the numbers correctly. From the February 2022 Russian invasion to August of this year, the United States has committed roughly $43 billion to Ukraine. As Haley suggested, that’s just 3.5% of U.S. spending on the Defense Department over the same period.

In other words, without American troops spilling a single drop of blood, Ukrainians are delivering body blows to the offensive military capabilities—e.g., the loss of more than 2,000 tanks to date—of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, America’s No. 2 adversary.  (American’s No. 1 adversary, of course, is Chinese Communist leader Xi Jinping, whom Putin has embraced in a “no limits” alliance.)

Another way to look at it: U.S. assistance to Ukraine—military and humanitarian combined—represents just 1.2% of U.S. government spending over the past 18 months.

Is that not outstanding value? When have American taxpayers received a better—or even comparable—return on investment?

I’m not arguing that $43 billion is chump change. But to put that number in perspective, a recent AP investigation found that more than $280 billion in COVID-19 relief funding may have been stolen, with another $123 billion wasted or misspent.

Consider three other misallocations (in my humble opinion) of your tax dollars.

President Biden is adding $80 billion over 10 years to the budget of the Internal Revenue Service.

His plan to socialize student loans was to cost as much as $430 billion. Since the Supreme Court found that plan unconstitutional, the White House has come up with a new plan to transfer $39 billion worth of loans from students to taxpayers.

And the misleadingly named Inflation Reduction Act is projected to cost taxpayers $1.2 trillion over 10 years in “green” subsidies. This will “address” but not actually impact climate change.

You also should know: Much of the materiel we’re sending to Ukraine is drawn from existing Defense Department stockpiles and is decades old.

Money spent on new and improved equipment to replace what we’ve transferred to Ukraine bolsters the U.S. defense industrial base, which is employing a growing number of skilled American workers.

That base has been in steep decline since what we believed (wrongly, I think) was the end of the Cold War in 1991. We took a premature “peace dividend.”

The U.S. defense industry also is expected to receive billions of dollars in new orders from European countries to replace materiel they have transferred to Ukraine.

So, support for Ukraine is modernizing American forces and the forces of America’s allies while building U.S. defense industrial capacity so we can better compete with other countries—the People’s Republic of China among them—that make and sell arms.

All this is necessary if Americans are to reliably deter their enemies. Deterrence doesn’t come cheap, but it’s a bargain compared to what it costs when our enemies see us as weak—lacking martial capability or will, or both—and decide to take a shot.

What about diplomacy?

We can try, one more time with feeling, to “reset” relations with Putin, as President Obama did one year after the Russian dictator carved two provinces off neighboring Georgia and five years before he invaded Ukraine for the first time.

We can continue to attempt to “thaw” relations with Xi. We can bribe Ali Khamenei of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

These dictators would be pleased but not appeased.

Offers of “win-win” compromises do not tempt them. Outreached hands in search of unclenched fists hold no appeal. They recognize and respect power—nothing else.

Trust me: If Putin comes out on top in the current conflict, he won’t devote his golden years to gardening and pickleball.

He’ll use the continuing revenue from oil sales to, shall we say, build back better militarily and pursue his dream: the restoration of the Russian Empire. He’ll also utilize Ukrainian resources—both natural and human (the latter with bayonets at their backs).

Because Finland and Sweden grasp this reality, they’re no longer neutral. They’re now on our side. Poland is beefing up its defenses.

Indeed, eleven European countries have given more to Ukraine as a percentage of GDP than has the United States. Several other NATO countries have not stepped up as they should—that’s where U.S. diplomacy can be put to good use.

Meanwhile, in South Africa last week, the BRICS bloc—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—held a summit at which they agreed to admit Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates. More than 20 other countries have expressed an interest in joining.

With Xi and Putin at the helm, and Khamenei holding their hands, this will become the latest anti-American “international community”—a growth industry.

Of course, if you’re an isolationist, you think: Let nations “non-align” against America! Let Russia erase Ukraine! Let NATO crumble! Let Beijing take Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific! Why worry?

No need—if you’re oblivious to the impact all that will have on the security, freedom, rights and prosperity of your children and grandchildren; if you can’t imagine what it will mean if America becomes a has-been hegemon in a world dominated by Chinese Communists and their America-hating partners in Moscow, Tehran, Pyongyang, Havana, Managua and a lengthening list of other capitals.

Yes, the price of maintaining American leadership is high. But the value is higher. Significantly. To refuse to see that is just foolish.

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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