There are no Good Options for U.S. Policy in Ukraine
Tucker Carlson caused a stir among potential and announced 2024 Republican candidates by asking them to reply in writing to a series of questions about their views on Ukraine. By far the most controversial response was Ron DeSantis’s statement that referenced the war as a “territorial dispute.” This prompted National Review’s Noah Rothman to liken DeSantis’s statement to describing a bank robbery as a dispute over money.
What the responses to Carlson’s questions exposed is the deep divisions within the Republican Party as to how the United States should respond to the war in Ukraine. Underlying the differing views is the unpleasant fact that there are no good options for U.S. policy in Ukraine. In stark terms, here are the options, none of them good.
1. If we stop supporting Ukraine militarily, they will be conquered by Russia and those who resisted the invasion will be severely punished.
2. If we continue to supply Ukraine with just enough military support to survive, the war will continue as a bloody stalemate resulting in tragic consequences in terms of loss of life on both sides and tremendous suffering imposed on the people of Ukraine.
3. If we up our military support through supplying Ukraine with more substantial weapons including long-range missiles, upgraded air defenses, and providing F-16s, we will push Russia into possibly escalating the war on their own terms which could include a full-scale mobilization of their population, spreading the war to other countries, including members of NATO and in the most alarming case resort to the use of some kind of nuclear weapons.
I think that Tucker's questions were reasonable. However, the common sense of his questions stands in contrast to his own narratives on Ukraine. There are certain obvious facts about the war that he ignores and substitutes obvious fictions in their place. His main assertion is that the driving force in U.S. policy is a desire for a war with Russia. This simply does not fit with the facts on the ground.
1. The policies of U.S. and NATO have been driven by a fear of war with Russia. Nobody in the West is looking for an excuse to invade Russia. Russia invaded Georgia, Crimea, and Eastern Ukraine and the western nations did little more than Trump's agreement to supply Ukraine with Javelin anti-tank missiles, something the Obama administration refused to do. The military support that Ukraine has received from NATO is very much motivated by a fear that if Russia easily conquers Ukraine, it will not stop with Ukraine.
2. The U.S. refused to impose sanctions until after the invasion was underway.
3. The Russian threat to use nuclear weapons was met with assurances that we would never issue such threats.
4. We not only refused to supply fighter jets, we stepped in to prevent Poland from contributing some of theirs. The western nation's responses have consistently been a day late and a dollar short, aimed at giving Ukraine just enough arms to survive, albeit at terrible cost.
While Tucker features Tulsi Gabbard's assertions that the war is intended to make profits for the manufacturers of weapons, there is no evidence that this has been a serious consideration for the Biden administration. A far better description is that Biden has mostly been blundering along, promoting a stalemate so as to avoid either the Russian conquest of Ukraine or a vastly expanded war that could have disastrous consequences for the whole world.
Most of the world sees Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion as an act of great courage and sacrifice to protect a people from a much larger and more powerful neighbor. Volodymyr Zelenskyy is admired because he is seen as a symbol of such courage. The strangest part of Tucker’s narrative is that in contrast to how most of the western world views the war, Tucker has invented a rapacious Zelenskyy who is promoting this war to enrich the lifestyles of himself and his wife.
Tucker has also been making ludicrous comparisons between economic migrants illegally entering the United States and Russian soldiers and tanks crossing the border of Ukraine. He claims this means that supporters of military aid to Ukraine care more about Ukrainians than Americans. One has nothing to do with the other. A more justified criticism of Biden’s border policies is that his administration cares more about the illegal migrants than it does about American citizens. The support that NATO and the U.S. gives to Ukraine is to exact a price on Russia for its aggression so as to discourage Russia from further aggression against NATO countries.
Tucker has a large following, often featuring people who are very courageous in fighting some of the worst abuses of woke progressives. He always emphasizes his admiration for their courage. Tucker's esteem for courage stands in contrast to his view that we should let Russia conquer Ukraine because it is too costly and too risky to resist. While this position is quite reasonable, such an explanation does not sit well with someone who shows so much admiration for courage. Hence, he has invented a tyrannical and corrupt Ukraine led by a demonic leader interested only in enriching himself at the expense of working-class Americans in small towns like East Palestine, Ohio.
This is nuts, and I fear that because he is so right about a lot of domestic issues, he has been able to force a very isolationist position on many of the Republican candidates for president, including the most promising, Ron DeSantis. Sadly, I fear the only beneficiary of Tucker’s Ukraine rants will be Joe Biden.