Patterico's Pontifications


Two Opposing Conservative Views on Ukraine

Filed under: General — JVW @ 3:57 pm

[guest post by JVW]

In last Friday’s Weekend Open Thread, Dana reported on the GOP House leadership taking up the Ukraine/Israel/Taiwan military aid bill. The Ukraine issue has thus far divided conservatives, and today National Review published two diverse opinions on the matter. First off was the magazine’s house editorial congratulating Speaker Mike Johnson and expressing approval that the U.S. would continue to fund those who were bravely doing battle with rogue states and miserable tyrants:

Johnson deserves credit for changing his mind on Ukraine funding once he acquired real responsibility as speaker and also for trying every alternative to keep his conference together before moving to pass the aid with Democratic votes as a last resort.

Had the Ukraine measure stayed bottled up in the House, Johnson would have borne an outsized measure of blame if an artillery-starved Ukrainian military collapsed.

[. . .]

The best argument against Ukraine aid is that it is costly and depleting U.S. stocks of weapons. But it would be just as costly to bolster front-line states — as we almost certainly would feel compelled to do — if Russia were to sweep to victory in Ukraine. The legislation makes the aid, in theory, a loan, and it attempts to offset the costs with seized Russian assets.

As for U.S. weapons stocks, about $23 billion of the roughly $60 billion in the Ukraine portion of the bill is devoted to replenishing them, although much more needs to be done to revitalize the U.S. military–industrial base.

The overall package includes more than $26 billion in aid for Israel, with crucial funding to replenish its missile defenses, and more than $8 billion for Taiwan and Indo-Pacific security. In a nice additional win, the TikTok divestiture bill was added to the package. It now will be passed along with the rest of the overall bill by a Senate that had seemed reluctant to take it up.

The rest of the editorial lays out the peril that this compromise poses to Mr. Johnson’s Speakership, and chides the bloc of Republican members who seem willing to abandon Ukraine to the devices of Russia.

In today’s pages (er, on today’s screen) Michael Brendan Dougherty dissents from his colleagues. Believing that this is the classic trap of good intentions but zero accountability or strategic thinking, Mr. Dougherty questions whether this is a war that ought to continue, especially since its proponents now openly admit that the support of the United States is vital to Ukraine’s aims:

These bills are a monument to our decadence and political cynicism. Nobody has put forward a cogent argument for how Ukraine will do better with less aid than we gave it last year in preparation for its major counteroffensive. Look to the press, and it’s a repeat of Mitch McConnell’s disgraceful performance in the Senate a few weeks ago. There is hardly even a pretense that Putin will be defeated, but there’s lots of backslapping that the native populists and other skeptics have been defeated.

He rejects the notion that forcing Ukraine into a peace deal as a disarmed, non-aligned “buffer” state between Russia and NATO is a huge capitulation for the West, and points to the history of such states as important neutral zones between competing European nations:

We would never take that deal, indeed, because we have two giant oceans and two friendly countries around us. But it’s traditional in European politics for smaller nations next to major military powers to have “neutrality” as the outer limit of their foreign-policy independence. Switzerland’s neutrality was never intended as a statement of confidence in the promises of Hitler. It worked because Switzerland was reliable and the two major military powers next to it could depend on the fact that Switzerland would not be used by a hostile foreign power as a launch pad. Maybe you prefer a world in which Switzerland perpetually risks its existence to be a more morally compelling figure in the geopolitical drama. But the Swiss, looking at the Germans, the French, the Italians, and before them the Austro-Hungarian Empire, thought differently.

Mr. Dougherty goes on to rhetorically ask why the U.S. and NATO are not more involved in the crisis in Armenia, where last September Azerbaijan forces raided Armenian villages and forced the evacuation of around 100,000 ethnic Armenians, in what Mr. Dougherty believes qualifies as “ethnic cleansing” every bit as much as what Russia is doing in the Donbas. And ultimately he concludes that Ukraine, like Armenia, is just not that much of a strategic interest to the United States:

[NRO writer Jim] Geraghty says that if we want peace, we should prepare for war. But that’s the whole problem for his position. The American people do not want to sign up to fight for Ukraine’s sovereignty themselves. They do not see it as in their national interest because our security and prosperity has never depended on Ukraine. We cannot be crippled by someone else controlling some of its resources. We hardly do any trade with Ukraine. And so there are hard democratic limits on America’s power to affect the outcome that Geraghty and National Review at large would like to see. [. . .] Polls at the very start of this war showed that a supermajority of Americans did not want the U.S. to play a major role in it. Now, Geraghty admits in his dispatch today that without our lethal military aid, Ukraine would choose a different course. In other words, we do have that major role. Choosing your own course in the face of the constraints real life places on you is the only definition of freedom that we have for most peoples. The job of the American military is to defend and advance American interests, not to make the world fair for Russia’s neighbors or teach Putin a lesson.

Finally, according to Mr. Dougherty, not only does the compromise bill not do anything to solve our border crisis, it actively makes things worse and undermine GOP candidates this fall:

Now, we get a good look at the Ukraine-aid bill and the bill to aid Israel. Combine them both, and you will find $4 billion dispersed between the State Department and the Office of Refugee Settlement to be given to left-wing NGOs who help border crossers evade our immigration laws.

Congratulations Mike Johnson and Mitch McConnell! You managed to throw away all leverage Republicans had, pass something that Republican voters don’t want, and that every single Democratic lawmaker did want, and to make the border situation much worse in the meantime, while filling up the treasuries of your ideological enemies. The gift to the NGOs will be used by whatever populist challengers are left in GOP congressional primaries to challenge incumbents, putting more wild-eyed and untested people in winnable races. Biden may be senile, but his administration just played McConnell and Johnson like a Stradivarius.

Mr. Dougherty’s broadside seems to elide the fact that the compromise also enrages left-wing activists due to the support that will go to Israel’s efforts to eradicate Hamas, right at the moment when so much of the American left has decided to go all-in on supporting the rancid Palestinian cause. I would imagine that there is a left-wing version of Michael Brendan Dougherty out there who is eviscerating the Biden Administration and Congressional Democrats for enabling this betrayal of their sacred cause. But I don’t really want to waste any time searching for it.

If nothing else, this should serve as a stark reminder to all of us at how difficult the choices are for our elected officials, especially when we are dealing with irrational actors who are untethered to reality and instead spend 100% of their time living within their own imaginary worlds. But enough about the two major party Presidential candidates. Instead, the contrasting viewpoints between the NRO editors and Michael Brendan Dougherty present a pretty vivid contrast to the legitimate strains of conservative thought here in 2024. All of us had better understand the arguments on both sides of the conservative divide and be ready to deal with them, at least as much as we should understand the spectrum of foreign policy thought on the left.


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