With Republicans almost inevitably set to win control of the House of Representatives this November — and possibly the Senate too — they’ll have far greater influence over US policy towards Ukraine. Initial GOP enthusiasm for supporting Kyiv, however, has taken an increasingly isolationist tilt since May.
One can’t help but ask: “For what shall it profit Republicans if they shall gain the whole Congress and lose their own (ideological) soul?”
In mid-May, the House voted 368-57 and the Senate 86-11 to give Ukraine $40 billion in lethal and humanitarian aid. Roughly $9 billion was simply to restock US military equipment such as Javelins and Stingers previously sent to Ukraine. In other words, $9 billion in contracts to the traditionally Republican US defense industry with national security the ultimate beneficiary.
It’s not every day Republicans get to vote for a bill that 1) strengthens US security, 2) benefits the defense industry and 3) weakens Russia. Yet all “No” votes came from the GOP. While the Republicans in favor outnumbered those against by 3-1, it’s worth answering the latter’s increasingly louder arguments against Ukraine aid.
It costs too much. After numerous Biden administration attempts to ram huge spending bills through Congress, questions about the price tag are normal. But phony fuss over $40 billion aimed at longtime US foreign-policy objectives is disingenuous, especially with the annual US defense budget at nearly $800 billion.
Milton Bearden, the CIA Afghanistan station chief during the 1980s, estimated it cost America $13 trillion to win the Cold War. Spending $40 billion to see “Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” per Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, is an exceptional cost savings and investment in our national security. Or, to quote Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, “Anyone concerned about the cost of supporting a Ukrainian victory should consider the much larger cost should Ukraine lose.”
That money could build the wall. If the president were Republican, building a wall with Mexico might be possible. But we can build a wall now with Russia, and the Germans will pay for it. It was Germany’s lust for cheap energy via Nord Stream 2 that helped trigger the Russian invasion, and as post-Ukraine reconstruction discussions begin, the Germans will likely pay a substantial portion of the bills. Germany is the European Union’s primary financial power, and the EU will play a prominent role here.
Ukraine is corrupt. The Zelensky government swept into power in 2019 on a wave of change because Ukrainians were tired of the crooked regimes of the past. Almost immediately the administration made a positive step towards cleaning up corruption by removing prosecutorial immunity for members of parliament.
Much more remains to be done, and time will tell if the Zelensky team makes serious efforts to transform Ukrainian society towards transparency and free markets. Give the administration time while making the incoming GOP Congress a watchdog on Ukrainian corruption rather than lapdog for Russian rhetoric.
Biden is for it — so I am against it. Opposing whatever the president proposes is an age-old Washington tradition, and Democrats are equally guilty of the transgression under Republican presidents. Sensational stories about Hunter Biden and his work with Ukrainian gas company Burisma don’t pertain to this Ukrainian administration.
But ample and honest opportunity exists to criticize the president here: He’s slow-walking weapons to Ukraine that would end the war faster and mean fewer Ukrainian deaths. The same Biden national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, who authored last summer’s Afghanistan debacle is now a bottleneck on providing Ukraine increasingly lethal weapons. Speeches can be made, inquiries issued, hearings held. The GOP’s soul lies in peace through strength, not cowardice and complacency against an evil empire.
The real question every Republican must ask is “On what side of history do I want to be?” On the side of a Judeo-Christian country fighting for survival simply because it wants to be part of the West? Or sitting on the sidelines of history while a tyrannical regime targets civilians, systematically encourages the rape of women and attempts genocide on an entire nation?
Some Republicans, unfortunately, have taken the stance that Ukraine should just surrender and accept an aggressor-imposed peace. Ronald Reagan never believed such nonsense and addressed such vacillation in his 1964 “Time for Choosing” speech: “We cannot buy our security, our freedom,” he said, “by committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion human beings enslaved behind the Iron Curtain, ‘Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skins, we’re willing to make a deal with your slave masters.’”
What was true then remains true today, and the aggressor remains the same. Come January the GOP will hold the budget strings for US policy towards Ukraine. The question remains: Will the GOP keep or lose its own soul?
Brian Mefford is the director of Wooden Horse Strategies, LLC, a governmental-relations and strategic-communications firm in Kyiv. He is a senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council and has lived and worked in Ukraine since 1999.