Congressional Republicans once represented a political party that lead every campaign stressing its national security credentials. No price was too great, no sacrifice too significant to keep a GOP congressman or senator on top of any debate about protecting American interests around the world.
But that Republican Party is dead and gone, sacrificed on the altar of the last Republican president’s coziness with the former Russian KGB agent and disdain for post-World War II security arrangements, including NATO that have long been the bedrock of American security. Donald Trump transformed the party of Reagan, turning it into a cult following an isolationist authoritarian, one increasingly anti-free trade and openly hostile to democracy.
There is never a road so long that it doesn’t have a bend it’s said, and the modern Republican Party has come to that bend. The long, post-war road that defined the GOP brand in national security terms is in real danger of unraveling for good.
As GOP members of Congress fled the capital for their Christmas cheer the headlines were stark, as in who lost Ukraine stark. “With Western aid stalled, Ukrainian troops run low on artillery shells,” said the Washington Post. “Ukraine Hits Major Russian Warship, but Loses Ground in the East,” said the New York Times, noting Ukraine had, while destroying a major Russian ship, also pulled back troops to the outskirts of Marinka – a small city reduced to ruins – marking a tactical retreat and a bleak Russian victory.
It seems all too clear that the brutal nearly two year war has reached an inflection point. Will Ukrainian forces have the stamina and the artillery shells to last through another cold winter or will Vladimir Putin prevail simply by not losing?
“Our needs are resources,” General Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s top military leader, said recently. “It’s weapons, it’s ammunition, it’s people. We calculate all of this in formulating our needs – people who we have lost, people who we could lose in the next year.”
The November decision by Republicans to link policy related to the U.S.-Mexican border to approval of essential aid to Ukraine is as short-sighted as it is stupid, but here we are. Just as the Ukrainian weapons stockpile disappears the GOP insists on a border security solution that has evaded Congress for a generation. It’s almost like Republicans were looking for an excuse to help Putin and they found one just outside of El Paso.
There is no mystery in the GOP linkage. The party has never sought a real policy solution to immigration or asylum seekers because it could have had one a dozen different ways over the last three presidencies. Republicans like – make that love – “the border” as a red meat issue to stoke fear and grievance within the GOP base. What’s a little Ukraine blood and territory as collateral damage to such political cynicism?
And for good measure add a little demagoguery to this retreat from international leadership, stiffing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who came to Washington earlier this month, helmet in hand, to get the tools to keep defending his country and by direct extension western Europe and the United States.
By all accounts the aid the U.S. has sent to Ukraine has caused the greatest degradation of Russian military capability since Hitler’s Panzers rolled toward Moscow in the summer of 1941. As the Center for European Policy Analysis calculated, “from numerous perspectives, when viewed from a bang-per-buck perspective, U.S. and Western support for Ukraine is an incredibly cost-effective investment.”
For a single digit percentage of the total American defense budget, according to a declassified U.S. intelligence report, Russia has absorbed “315,000 dead and injured troops, or nearly 90% of the personnel it had when the conflict began.” Furthermore, the report “assessed that Moscow’s losses in personnel and armored vehicles … have set back Russia’s military modernization by 18 years.”
But such logic confuses a modern Republican backbencher like Idaho’s election denying Congressman Russ Fulcher. “We’ve already spent $113 billion in resources to Ukraine,” Fulcher said recently, “and we don’t know what the clear mission is.”
Say what? The mission is to keep Putin from winning and in the process protect western Europe from Putin’s plan to rebuild the old Soviet empire.
Fulcher helps us understand the incoherence of his position by noting that his constituents overwhelmingly oppose more aid. Precisely the arguments made before American entry into World War II when Franklin Roosevelt, facing bipartisan opposition as blinkered as Fulcher’s, persuaded Congress to support transferring U.S. supplies to a beleaguered Britain as it hung on against the Nazis.
This is the modern Republican Party, ruled by isolationist, white nationalist reactionaries in Washington – and clearly at the grassroots – who have decided to follow Trump and his Hitler-invoking rhetoric along the yellow brick road toward Putin and Moscow.
Fulcher hints at possible support for additional Ukraine aid if Joe Biden assures “serious reform, serious attention to our southern border,” but he’s joking. He’s the worst kind of congressman, one who claims to represent the will of his people even when doing so requires – assuming Fulcher were capable of such a thing – applying simple common sense.
The biggest clue that the GOP is fixing to abandon Ukraine comes from the junior senator from Idaho, James E. Risch, who by virtue of luck and Senate seniority, now sits as the ranking Republican on the once prestigious Foreign Relations Committee. Until December and the party’s pivot to link the Mexican border to the Ukrainian front line, Risch was a stout hearted supporter of American aid, even going to Kiev for a photo op with Zelensky. Now, Risch’s continuing support is conditioned on, as he says, the security issue his rightwing constituent’s fear most – desperate humans at the border fleeing poverty, crime, corruption and chaos.
“The biggest threat that my constituents feel is not from (Ukraine),” Risch said recently as he pirouetted away from the foreign policy threat of our time, “it’s from our southern border.”
Risch’s lifetime in politics may not feature accomplishment, but he is a survivor, and he can read the polls, including the November Gallup survey that shows 62% of Republicans believe the U.S. is doing too much to aid Ukraine.
Risch, once about as conversant with foreign policy as Trump, the fellow Risch carried water for during that memorable period, is now, thanks to luck and the seniority system, in a position to actually do something for Ukraine, Europe, America and the world. Don’t hold your breath. Given a choice between a moral stand based on genuine principle and the political path of least resistance, Risch always takes the low road to expediency.
The party that zipped its collective lip when Trump embraced Putin, tolerated Trump’s shakedown of Zelensky in order to influence domestic politics and remains totally silent as their party leader pushes ever farther toward authoritarianism is no party of principle.
I genuinely hope to be surprised when Congress returns early next year to take up the aid issue again, but expecting Republicans like Risch, even when they have taken a strong pro-Ukrainian positions in the past, to defend a position the least bit unpopular with “the base” is to live in a political fantasy land. And Risch has positioned himself perfectly to be against what he once was for, and he always has Joe Biden to blame.
When we start asking who lost Ukraine, remember the little men from Idaho who talked big and voted small.
A few items I found interesting/important …
In 1967, a Black Man and a White Woman Bought a Home … Politics Would Never Be the Same
“On their fifth night in the neighborhood, the Baileys’ telephone lines were cut.
“On the sixth night, the police did nothing. They just watched as neighbors — 80 to 100 of them — threw smoke bombs and broke windows at the house that looked exactly like their own. Gov. George Romney threatened to call the Michigan state police.
“On the ninth night, embarrassed into action, members of the Warren police department put on their riot helmets and marched behind a rumbling tank to rescue the beleaguered family at 26132 Buster Drive.”
A stunning bit of history from Michigan. Link to Politico.
Extreme weather is changing California … These road trips show how
“This year, transformations were on full display after record-breaking winter storms wreaked havoc on landscapes already reeling from years of drought, wildfires and coastal erosion. While scientists are still debating whether the intensity was increased by human-caused climate change, they have long predicted events like these will worsen as the world warms.”
A Guardian reporter talks to the road to assess climate change in California.
Why Kurt Vonnegut’s advice to college graduates still matters today
A wonderful story … be sure you watch the video piece at the very end.
“Young people, college students especially, loved Vonnegut. During the early and mid-1960s, he commanded an avid and devoted following on campuses before he had produced any bestsellers. Why was a middle-aged writer born in 1922 adored by a counterculture told not to trust anyone over 30? Why did he continue to appeal to younger generations until his death?”
Thanks, as always, for following along. It’s been a year, hasn’t it?
As you can likely tell I’m seriously concerned about the future of American politics and democracy, but I’m trying to end the year on a genuine up note. Amid the many trials and wars and political dysfunction so many good people are doing so much in their own ways – large and small – to improve the human condition. Let’s celebrate that human connection as we ring in the New Year. All the best.
See you soon …