The Defense of Ukraine has become a mildly controversial topic in the United States with the American right being divided over the issue. While the mainstream of elected Republican politicians generally support the US intervention, including former President Trump and conservative Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), about half of GOP voters remain skeptical. Why do half of Republican voters oppose US assistance to Ukraine?
It is a strange phenomenon of modern US politics that patriotism is increasingly partisan. When a Republican holds office, the Democrats are 100% against any policy set by the Republican president. It now seems the right is embracing this tribal “woke” approach and will now oppose any action taken by the left. It is true that historically, there has been much partisanship over US involvement in foreign wars. Typically, this is more nuanced. Republicans were generally supportive of US engagement in World War II, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, for example. There were criticisms aimed at the Roosevelt Administration for some of its decisions, its mismanagement of the war time economy, and other minutiae. Along the Greatest Generation, patriotism did not depend upon politics.
It is curious, that Donald Trump was supportive of Zelenskyy and Ukraine during his presidency. He pushed NATO to increase defense spending due to the Russian threat and called for European leaders not to become slaves to Russian gas. In 2019, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) proposed legislation, later signed into law by then President Trump, enacting sanctions on the Nordstream II Baltic Sea pipeline. Senator Cruz felt Putin was holding back from an invasion of Ukraine due to fears about the delivery of gas to Europe, since most of the Soviet Era gas pipelines to Europe run through Ukraine and might be damaged in a conflict. No sooner had Joe Biden taken office as President then he lifted the sanctions on Nordstream II and ceased the arms shipments to the Ukrainian government. These constituted a virtual “green light” to Putin to invade Ukraine. Is it not these actions that warrant criticism?
Republicans were supportive of Ukraine during Trump’s time and that set the stage for Ukraine’s near-miraculous defense in the late conflict. Sadly, a recent poll found that 52% of Republicans (polls are unreliable but about half seems plausible) do not support US assistance to Ukraine. This issue clearly had something to do with the GOP’s poor performance in the recent midterm elections. The Republican Party has typically held the edge over the Democrat Party on national security issues, surrendering this ground to the Democrats is not a sound idea.
Could it be that half of Republican voters are woefully uninformed about current events in Eastern Europe? Perhaps. Could it be that they do not understand US strategic interests? Most people do not. Could it be that half of Republicans support an oppressive dictator in his efforts to conquer Ukraine as he commits mass murder against its population? Certainly not. Although it cannot escape attention that some people on the right are falling prey to Russian propaganda designed to divide Americans on the issue.
The reason seems to be pettier than that: after years of abuse by the left and the media, most people on the right no longer trust the information presented to them. Nor do they trust a man whose election as President most see as illegitimate or at least questionable; and not without good reason. So it is, that nearly half of Republican voters are opposed to US involvement in Ukraine simply because they do not approve of the current President. This is a sad state of affairs, to be sure; a symptom of these dark times.
When discussing Ukraine among those on the right, it is common to begin with a discussion of the corruption of Ukraine’s government. It is true that Putin and Russia have spent decades corrupting the Ukrainian government. It is also true that since Zelenskyy came to office, over 700 politicians, businessmen, and bureaucrats have been jailed for corruption. A cabinet minister was recently dismissed and charged with bribery. Obviously, a corrupt kleptocracy could not competently wage a successful military campaign like that which has held the Russians at bay over the past year. What causes those on the right to deny the facts in favor of delusions?
The payments to Hunter Biden from Russian sources, including Burisma and the widow of a Russian Oligarch, should instead raise suspicions about the Biden Administration’s queasiness in supporting Ukraine. Why did they hold back the Mig 29s that Poland offered to Russia? Why are they holding back older M1 Abrams tanks even as the United Kingdom is sending Ukraine 14 Challenger II tanks? Why not send the Migs along with some older F-16 fighters? Clearly, these would expedite Ukraine’s victory and end the suffering of its population. Russia is already characterizing this conflict as a war with NATO. Whatever “provocations” the Russians are going to complain about have already been aired. Likewise, Germany has wavered and prevaricated about the sending of Leopard II tanks to Ukraine. President Biden could have pressured Germany by sending US tanks. Again, the Biden Administration fails to act while holding an ostensibly pro-Ukraine position. What did Putin’s dollars to Hunter Biden buy from “the big guy?” Republicans should be pouncing on these conflicts of interest in our nation’s foreign policy.
More importantly, in the grand moral equation, how does the murder of 150,000-odd people, the deliberate attacks on power production and transmission infrastructure to freeze the population in the harsh winter, the torturing to death of military personnel and civilians alike, the targeting of civilian homes, and the burying of men women and children in mass graves by the hundreds compare to political corruption? When discussing the moral wrongs of the Second World War, the corruption of the Roosevelt Administration, while an issue worth discussing, comes far behind the Holocaust, Nanjing, and other crimes against humanity in the grand moral equation. How can those on the right claim to be champions of moral responsibility whilst turning a blind eye to mass murder?
It bears mention that all of this pales in comparison to the recent conduct of the left when Donald Trump was in office. Former Democrat Party leaders at that time, actively communicated with America’s enemies to undermine President Trump’s foreign policy aims (among many more abuses). The utter fury and hyperventilation with which every policy effort of the Trump Administration was met by the left over the course of his presidency set the precedent. Watching people on the left oppose efforts to engage with North Korea, bring America’s Arab allies into closer alliance with Israel, and to convince Europe to take up its own defense against Russia was heartbreaking. As a result, GOP voters are engaging in just the same kind of wokeness with regard to foreign policy.
On to Victory!
The US will, rightly, continue to aid Ukraine in its defense against its would-be oppressor Russia and their evil dictator Vladimir Putin. The vast majority of Americans continue to support this assistance. What could be more American than opposing tyranny and mass murder? Many on the right will remain skeptical and their sense of patriotism and America’s interests will continue to be skewed by politics and Russian propaganda.
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