One Year Later, A Conservative Case for Ukraine

One year after Russia invaded Ukraine, its invasion has stalled. 

The Ukrainians have not only held their own, but have managed to liberate a good chunk of their conquered territory.  They’ve been buoyed tremendously by a constant influx of Western military aid.  I argue here, against a small but vocal conservative faction, that we should continue this aid.

There has been plenty of unhelpful hyperbole on both sides of the debate.  Prominent pro-Ukrainers have attempted to equate opposition to Ukrainian aid as opposition to democracy itself.  Michael Beschloss, NBC’s resident Rent-A-Zinn, referencing members of Congress who didn’t applaud Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s recent speech, and in Stalinist fashion, tweeted “we need to know from them exactly why.”  Neocon David Frum tweeted that Elon Musk, who questions some aspects of the U.S. response, is a Russian “trial balloon.”  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, more detached than a greasy Duplo block, called Ukrainian assistance our “number one priority.”. 

But some prominent anti-Ukrainers, not to be outdone, dutifully rose to the challenge.  Dan Caldwell, vice president of foreign policy for Stand Together tweeted, “Zelensky…has been very clear his goal is to get America’s sons and daughters to fight and die in the war in Ukraine.”  Likewise, Fox News commentator Tomi Lahren tweeted, “We can’t fight this war for you for eternity!!!”  I’m not sure which war we are fighting for them and, to my knowledge, Zelensky has not requested anything beyond funding and weapons.  “I assure you that Ukrainian soldiers can perfectly operate American tanks and planes themselves,” Zelensky told American lawmakers.  Unless Caldwell and Lahren have information that we don’t, they’re engaging in reckless fear-mongering.  American troops are not fighting in Ukraine, nor will they. 

The rational position of the anti-Ukrainers, outlined in more reasonable terms by John Daniel Davidson, Katherine Thompson, William Wolfe, and others, seem to rest on the following four points, which I attempt to refute:


Yes, we are largely funding the Ukrainians against the Russian invasion.  We’ve given them roughly $100 billion in piecemeal funding with many strings attached and, as Matthew Continetti pointed out, in the grand scheme of our $31 trillion debt and our now-routine trillion dollar budgets, this aid amounts to a rounding error.  The United States government spent $6.27 trillion in FY 2022, from which our Ukraine aid barely registers.  Sure, we could have spent the money domestically…on such urgencies as “environmental justice” programs, transgender youth programs, and further FBI investigations into concerned parents domestic terrorism, all of which Mitch McConnell helped pass in the latest leftist smorgasbord omnibus package.  Given the choice, that money is better spent kneecapping Russia than it is surgically mutilating children. 


The mirage that we can isolate ourselves from the happenings of the world is one we’ve entertained before, most consequentially on Dec. 6, 1941 and Sept. 10, 2001.  Subsequent events were assumed to have shattered that mirage, but, alas, it appears difficult to eradicate.  This is not the bugle call of the neocon fever dream demanding all war all the time everywhere.  Rather, we need to pick and choose our battles carefully but assertively and, when possible, fight them through proxies.  We did this across the globe for the entirety of the Cold War, as did our enemies.  And every country in which we fought a proxy war could justifiably be considered “none of our business.”  Yet you’d be hard pressed to find a Republican, then or now, who criticized Ronald Reagan’s decision to support anticommunist armies in Latin America, or other paramilitary efforts to contain communism in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.  And unlike democratic Ukraine, most of these allied governments were unabashed dictatorships and Islamist theocracies. 

Austria in 1938 was “none of our business,” too. Afghanistan in the 1990s was “none of our business.”  Except they were.  You might not be interested in totalitarianism, but totalitarianism is interested in you.  Our experience with domestic leftists should have us beyond convinced of this reality.  Freedom and tyranny are not static entities; one grows or shrinks in inverse proportion to the other.  We can choose to fight it when it’s weak, or be forced to fight it (or submit to it) when it’s strong. 


To news last December that we were sending Patriot missile systems (mind you, purely defensive weapons), Beege Welborn at Hot Air warned, “We’d all pay. Dearly.” ... if said systems were used to down a Russian plane.  But many Russian planes have been downed since the war’s inception, without a single Russian nuke obliterating an American city, or any American anywhere, in reciprocity. 

That this war involves Russia itself rather than a proxy doesn’t change the calculus.  In Vietnam, the NVA was armed far more lavishly by the Russians and Chinese than Ukraine is currently armed by us.  In Afghanistan, we armed the Mujahideen against the Soviets for nearly a decade.  And for the record, in 2018, Putin was caught smuggling large caches of weapons to the Taliban for use against us.  This happened without us nuking each other.

For all his saber-rattling, Putin knows that a direct conflict with the United States would quickly end his rule.  And he knows that a nuclear conflict with the United States would quickly end his beloved Russia and its supposed cultural superiority.  If Putin was going to use nukes, he would have done so by now, and he would have nuked Ukraine rather than the United States.  But Putin is not going to nuke anybody, not because of any moral qualms, but because it’s the surest way he’ll lose everything precious to him. 


I won’t deny there’s an off-putting sleaziness associated in finding common ground with McConnell, Biden, and the rest of the deckhands of the Crimson Permanent Assurance.  Disagreeing with the Democrats, without even knowing what the issue is, is a good bet 99.99% of the time.  And whatever their motives are regarding Ukraine, surely they are not the defense of freedom in the face of brute tyranny.  But we can do the right thing for the right reasons, despite them doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.  We fought Naziism alongside the Soviets. 

Napoleon is thought to have issued the maxim: 'never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake.'  For two decades, Putin has been playing five-dimensional chess while our civilian and military leadership still struggle to figure out Candyland.  But his Ukraine invasion was a grave miscalculation, uncharacteristic for him, and one from which he cannot extract himself while saving face.  He has spent the year digging his hole ever deeper, with no end in sight, all the while exposing the once-feared Russian military for the ineffective husk it really is.  Even if the war ended today, his reconstituted Soviet empire remains a chimerical pipe dream.  The Russian military has been decimated.  It now relies on Iran and North Korea for weaponry.  Russia’s best and brightest have either fled the country or decompose in Ukrainian mud.  Putin has lost over 100,000 troops along with 300,000 wounded in less than a single year.  Those are world war-level casualties.  Why would we interrupt him?

The Ukraine War isn’t an “endless” war.  It’s been a year.  In Realpolitik, Ukraine is just the next proxy army fighting the latest Cold War battle so that we don’t have to.  And Ukraine has performed beyond anyone’s expectations.  Maybe that’s because, as Americans, our expectations are so dismal.  We expect our media to openly sympathize with the enemy, and to declare a “quagmire” any war in which American boots have been on the ground in excess of ten minutes.  We expect our woke Pentagon clowns to “fight” using obsolete rules of engagement written in 1949 and to win the “hearts and minds” of our enemies rather than kill them.  We expect our elected leaders to trade captured enemy generals for American traitors, and to abandon impenetrable air bases deep in enemy territory for no strategic reason whatsoever.  So if we can fund a war fought by Ukraine rather than a war fought by America with Gen. Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the genderfluid helm, my money is on the former.

To Ukrainians, the war is about Ukraine.  To the rest of the world, the war is about Russia.  It’s about Russian intentions, capabilities, expansionism, willpower, and future.  And it’s about Putin’s obsession with, and insistence of, an eternal Manichean struggle against the West.  In speech after speech, both before and after his invasion of Ukraine, he rails not against the supposed neo-Nazis lurking in neighboring states but against Western “hegemony,” against the U.S. dollar, against colonialism (at least the non-Russian variety), and the like.  Putin has called the collapse of the USSR the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century and has said that he would reverse its demise had he the power to do so.  Far from being “cornered,” he has successfully invaded Chechnya (1999) and Georgia (2008), stole the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine (2014), and installed puppet governments in Belarus and other former Soviet republics.  Is there any reason to think that if we let Putin win this war, that he would stop there?  Remember what we conservatives used to say about the dangers of appeasement?

This is the pro-Ukraine argument in a very small nutshell.  There are undoubtedly many rational counterarguments, in which I am sincerely interested and will gladly concede any and all valid points.  But shrieking NEOCON STOOGE!!! not only leaves my argument intact, it exposes the vacuity of the counterargument.  Conservatives can passionately debate issues and, if need be, agree to disagree.  Conservatism is a big tent, in which there is enough room for both the pro-Ukrainers and anti-Ukrainers.  Anyone insistent on administering purity tests is in the wrong tent. 

Image: Screen shot from ABC News video, via YouTube

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