The American people have finally had enough with the Washington uni-party sending blank checks to Ukraine’s president — Volodymyr Zelenskyy — and his incompetent, corrupt authoritarian government.
By a ten-point margin of 55-45 — the standard definition of a landslide in U.S. politics — a poll just revealed Americans oppose congressional plans to throw more money at Kiev. Such a move would again let the wealthy moochers of Europe off the hook for their own defense and elevate the risk of Moscow using nuclear weapons.
This is a major change in public sentiment. It may be driven by the much-hyped springtime counteroffensive that didn’t start until summer and has failed. That failure has clarified a reality that should have been clear from the onset.
As I have said since President Joe Biden committed us to proxy war with Russia, joined instantly by congressional leaders of both parties without debate and later typified by Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell saying, “providing assistance for Ukrainians to defeat the Russians is the number one priority for the United States right now…”
The proxy fight with Russia in reality is the “The wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.”
That borrowed phrase from Omar Bradley was meant to illuminate two realities. The first is that we have no vital national interest in Ukraine. All of the justifications for funding the war used by congressmen and the media, both on the Left and Right, have come down to Wilsonian globaloney about preserving a rules-based international order that simply doesn’t exist or NATO solidarity (we pay for and do everything).
As the public now grasps, neither the U.S. economy nor our security are threatened by the Ukraine war except in the most abstract and outlandish sense. The second point is that we must have priorities in our defense — especially with budgets set to shrink as fiscal crisis arrives in Washington over the next 5-10 years — and deterring war with China is more important than again picking up the check for the defense of wealthy European moochers.
Washington hawks of both parties have fantasized that “standing with Ukraine” will impress China’s leadership with our resolve and make it think twice about starting a war in the Pacific. In reality, Beijing is giddy that America is distracted with war in Ukraine, diving us further into debt, and delaying a much-needed transition from a military geared to war in Europe and counterinsurgency in backwaters like Syria to one that can deter Beijing in the vast blue geography of the Western Pacific.
As reported this week by the Financial Times, the latest Biden-Congress Ukraine gimmick is to offer $345 million in what is known as U.S. Foreign Military Financing — essentially handouts — for Taiwan in order to get billions more for Kiev out of Congress. The theory is that the growing number of congressmen who are skeptical about a blank check for the ever-increasing demands of Captain Undershirt in Kiev will be mollified by a small bone thrown in for Taiwan.
One characteristic that sets Taiwan apart from many other allies is that it pays for its own defense. Unlike Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and others, Taiwan has long paid America cold hard cash for the arms it acquires.
To lose this distinction as an ally that pays for its own military is not worth $345 million and the hawks like Senator Lindsey Graham, who have advocated this unrequested transformation, have no idea what it takes to keep the American public on the side of a cause against tyranny.
Taiwan’s assets are that its people will fight if attacked, that its existence shows ethnically Chinese people can have successful democracy, that it funds its own defense, and that it does not seek major U.S. forces to be stationed in Taiwan.
The foreign policy establishment understands none of that since it understands little about political warfare or playing the long game against China. Ukraine now joins Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Somalia in the long list of fumbled interventions by the failure factory in Washington that comprises our national security bureaucracy.
Don’t expect reticence or reform from the arrogant brass that has lost every war since 1991. Take five minutes to check out the debate I had on Fox some time back with a smug Air Force general who couldn’t define a clear national interest in going to proxy war with Russia, but was incredulous at the idea of not jumping into another war without a strategy, much less a plan for victory.
The smug national security establishment could never define a U.S. national interest in Ukraine beyond Wilsonian globalony. It will take a determined effort by a new president in 2025 to flick the Ukraine booger off of the finger of state before it causes massive damage to American prestige and power.
Delay only pushes Moscow closer to Beijing, risks Russia using nuclear weapons and expedites the transformation of the international economy away from U.S.- influenced financial institutions and the U.S. dollar. The next president should free us from this distracting and costly liability, but do so in a way that avoids a Bidenesque spectacle like the Fall of Kabul to the Taliban.
The experts currently seem to think the worst outcome in Ukraine is today’s stalemate, but it is also possible that Ukraine will collapse in its war of attrition with its much larger neighbor. No new president wants that on his watch.
The answer for the next president is to adapt a modified version of Vietnamization — the Nixon administration’s wildly popular process of ending costly U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and transferring responsibility of defense to the South Vietnamese while also pushing negotiations between the combatants that ultimately led to success in the Paris Peace Accords.
The process gave South Vietnam a chance to secure its own survival until a radical post-Watergate Congress abruptly cut off funding for the Saigon government, precipitating its collapse. Vietnamization allowed a decent interval for America to refocus on rebuilding, national healing and the eternal necessity that Nixon and his secretary of State,
Henry Kissinger, grasped of trying to keep China and Russia from forming a dangerous Eurasian condominium of power. The next president should make clear that it is time for Europe and Europe alone to fund the defense of Europe, including whatever it wishes to do for Ukraine.
This is not 1945 when Europe lay in ashes and poverty and would have succumbed to Soviet domination or occupation were it not for U.S. funds and arms. Today Europe is politically stable and has as many people and as much wealth as the United States.
Led by voices in Paris and Berlin, Europe has long preened of a desire for a defense capability that is independent of overbearing Washington. Now it is Europe’s time to fulfill this dream.
The way out for a new president is to end Biden’s de facto Europe First foreign policy and make clear that Europe will have to fund its own defense fully by the end of his first term while Washington reorients the U.S. military to deterring war with China and Iran.
To pave the way for this transition, Congress should taper its practice of sending Ukraine more money that we don’t have and tell Europe it must start paying the majority of the war’s cost.
Biden and Congress should also leave the separate matter of Taiwan out of the morass to avoid weakening crucial American public support for that free nation, which is actually an asset in our struggle with China.
Christian Whiton was a senior adviser in the Donald Trump and George W. Bush administrations. He is a senior fellow at the Center for the National Interest.
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