Defending our own interests

by Steven Roberts

America must not abandon Ukraine. Congressional Republicans who are blocking President Biden’s request for another $61 billion in aid to Kyiv are making a deeply dangerous mistake.

If, as a nation, we are serious about advancing democracy, then repelling Russia’s invasion of a peaceful neighbor is a moral imperative. But the stakes are far greater than that. Defending our friends and deterring our enemies is in our own national interest.

“Giving us money or giving us weapons, you support yourself,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the Economist. “You save your children, not ours.”

“This is not just some altruistic project,” agrees Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader. “This passes every cold, hard, realistic calculation with flying colors. It’s the right move for American taxpayers, for American servicemembers, for our allies and partners. … Our investment in Ukraine is restoring and rebuilding deterrence for pennies on the dollar.”

And yet congressional Republicans have decided to defy McConnell and play politics with this issue. They look at polls that document fatigue and see an opening to make mischief. GOP leaders in the House won’t even schedule a vote on Biden’s request until Democrats agree to major changes in immigration policy.

Immigration is a highly volatile and complex issue, which is why no reforms have been enacted in almost 40 years, so it’s profoundly irresponsible for Republicans to tie together the two issues. But Biden and his congressional allies are realists, they know the stakes and they are willing to negotiate reasonable restrictions that risk the wrath of pro-immigration forces in their own party in order to support Kyiv.

“I’ll take it however they can pass it,” admits Biden’s budget chief Shalanda Young. “I mean, beggars shouldn’t be choosing.”

There are growing doubts, however, that Republicans are negotiating in good faith. Biden is vulnerable on the border issue, and some of his rivals refuse to make any deal that would help him out in an election year.

“Maybe the reason Democrats are having so much difficulty getting to ‘yes’ with Republicans is that many Republicans are committed to ‘no,’ regardless of what the offer is,” writes David Frum in The Atlantic.

But getting to yes is absolutely essential. The long-term cost of failure would be far higher than any short-term bill for aiding Ukraine now.

“If Putin is not defeated in Ukraine, neighboring NATO countries will fall under threat,” warns Halyna Yanchenko, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, in a blog post for the Kennan Institute. “In that event, the costs to the United States would be expected to be much higher, and NATO troops, including American soldiers, could be forced to defend European soil.”

Yanchenko continued: “The U.S. Congress must answer the question: Is it preferable to provide assistance now or to send American soldiers — minimally as peacekeepers, potentially as fighting forces — to Europe later? Which choice would better promote U.S. geopolitical interests and national security?”

Vladimir Putin is not the only foreign leader closely watching Congress. Our European allies are, too.  “The United States is the fulcrum for this effort,” argues the Center for American Progress. “Our continued assistance is critical for fulfilling this role too.”  

Another argument in favor of aid does not get enough attention. Yes, $61 billion is a lot of money, but much of it will be spent here in the United States, buying American weapons, hiring American workers and revitalizing American communities.

“Despite claims to the contrary, the United States is not sending bags of unaccounted-for cash to Ukraine,” writes the German Marshall Fund. “Most U.S. contributions go to military aid, including weapons and equipment made by American defense contractors who employ communities across the country. When the United States spends money to purchase military equipment as part of an international aid package, the material may go overseas, but the money and jobs stay in America.”

Shalanda Young warns that Ukraine’s situation is “dire.” But so is ours. If Russia wins this war, all of us — freedom-loving people everywhere — will pay a very heavy price.

Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University; [email protected].