The Ukraine Imperative

America’s national interest requires Ukraine to be a bipartisan bridge.” – The Lonely Realist

After America’s calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan in the Summer of 2021, TLR wrote that “America is war-weary. Its three most recent Presidents – Obama, Trump and Biden – have made military withdrawal from the global stage an American priority.” The Biden Administration reversed that priority after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, adopting a globalist foreign policy famously championed by Ronald Reagan. It was Reagan’s foreign policy priorities that led to the collapse of the Soviet empire, cementing America’s position as global hegemon. Under the Reagan Doctrine, the U.S. increased its stockpile of weapons, provided overt and covert support to pro-American governments and groups, offered financial and logistical support to allies, and took a hardline, activist position against America’s actual and potential enemies. Reagan’s foreign policy became a bulwark for American security. Regrettably, that globalist policy was abandoned during America’s 21st Century retreat into relative isolationism.

America during the 20-teens witnessed a departure from Teddy Roosevelt’s advice to speak softly and carry a big stick to the Obama and Trump practice (and early Biden practice) of speaking loudly and wielding little or no stick. Although America began the Century by deposing Saddam Hussein, America’s victory was a pyrrhic one, with Iraq becoming neither an American ally nor even a trading partner and with America’s military withdrawal from Iraq creating a Middle East power vacuum that Iran, Russia and China have eagerly filled. After President Obama in 2012 publicly cautioned Bashar al-Assad not to use chemical weapons, threatening military action if Syria crossed a “red line in the sand,” John McCain caustically noted that Obama’s failure to take action meant that the red line had been “written in disappearing ink.” America’s passivity empowered Assad to use banned weapons and employ ethnic cleansing without fear of reprisal … and shortly thereafter encouraged Assad’s Russian sponsor, Vladimir Putin, to annex Crimea. In rejecting Republican Party calls to militarily aid Ukraine in 2014, President Obama stated that “The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-NATO country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do,” an invitation for Russia to annex all of Ukraine, which is Russia’s current agenda. Donald Trump renewed that invitation when, as a candidate in 2016, he said that if elected he would recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and would look at pulling America out of NATO because it is “obsolete” and “is costing us a fortune.” Although newly-elected President Trump thereafter talked a more muscular foreign policy, especially with respect to America’s Asian interests in tweeting that the Obama Administration had left him “with a war ready to start [with North Korea],” threatening Kim Jong Un with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” that tough talk also was mere bluster. North Korea thereafter developed nuclear weapons along with the missile systems to deliver them. That was followed by the Trump Administration’s 2017 abandonment of America’s Kurdish allies in the Middle East, the rejection of Trans-Pacific Partnership policies that would have extended American influence in China’s East Asia sphere, and the decision by the Trump and Biden Administrations to withdraw from Afghanistan. It therefore is not surprising that successive American Presidents’ retreat from global leadership led Vladimir Putin to expect a limp reaction from the Biden Administration when Russia invaded Ukraine. As The Economist editorialized, “To the extent that outsiders [saw America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan] as a sign of weakness, that weakness has been evident for a long time.” Putin therefore dismissed the possibility of a muscular American response to the Ukraine invasion based on 20 years of ineffective American responses to provocations and hostile actions by Russia, Syria, Iran, North Korea and others.

The speed and size of the Biden Administration’s response to the Ukraine invasion therefore came as a surprise – to Russia and to China –, and was heartily welcomed by America’s European allies (as well as by Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, etc.). The invasion and America’s response should have generated bipartisan Democratic and Republican support for a Reagan foreign policy renaissance. It did not. Instead, it generated a heated “America First” backlash that continues to oppose foreign policy commitments as adverse to America’s domestic interests. The backlash included the introduction by Representative Matt Gaetz (R FL) of a House resolution to halt aid to Ukraine, with Gaetz asserting that the Reagan brand of foreign policy ideology “has done our country harm,” and a proposal by Senator Josh Hawley (R MO) that a special inspector general be appointed to oversee Ukraine-related expenditures. Actions taken by Gaetz, Hawley and other America First advocates reflect widespread Republican voter support for limiting American weapons and financial assistance to Ukraine (per surveys conducted by Echelon Insights and Axios/Ipsos).

What if America adopted such an America First isolationist policy and pulled back from its Ukraine commitments? After all, that is the outcome sought by President Trump, Governor DeSantis and other Republican politicians who argue that American interests require distancing America from the rest of the world … the same hope expressed by Russia and China … and the fear expressed by European and East Asian governments.

Should such a retreat occur, the result would be a “giant sucking sound” [with thanks to Ross Perot] that would result in a geopolitical, military and economic vacuum into which China (and its Axis-of-the-Sanctioned allies) would leap. The American-led world order would crumble. The EU would be compelled to embrace increased trade with China (and reduced ties to America) and make concessions to Russia that would protect it against Russian military aggression. Taiwan would be forced to accept a Hong Kong fate, and Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and others would recognize the need to ensure favorable relations with China and its friends …, at America’s expense. A new Chinese world order would be bound together by strategic trade and economic necessities that would be enhanced by China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Hints of the consequences already are evident in the Middle East as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and even Israel have tempered their Western ties after witnessing the fracturing of American politics and American withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The world has experienced pacifist retreat before, bringing to mind Winston Churchill’s/George Santayana’s warning that “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” A significant part of TLR’s mission is to explain the necessity for bridging the partisan divide. Coming together to strengthen America’s role on the global stage is a national survival imperative. Doing so requires bipartisanship.

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