Skip to main content

Ukraine is Fighting our Battles, So We Don’t Have to

If there is one thing Republicans have always believed — one rock-solid conviction you could absolutely take to the bank, no matter how much they otherwise distorted facts, history, and reality itself — it’s that Russia is an existential threat to the world in general, and the United States in particular.

But now that they’ve been proven unassailably correct in this, now that Russia has sunk to depths of barbarity unique in human history, how strange is it to watch Republicans develop a middle-school crush on a bloodthirsty tyrant.

No, it’s not all Republicans. But a significant number — especially in the new House majority — have shown an unhealthy attraction to Putin, and an uncharacteristic willingness to throw Ukraine under the bus.

As with everything these clowns do, we never know how much is theater and how much is strategy — or whether the theater is, in fact, the strategy. And we don’t know which pieces of their bonkers agenda they think might have a realistic chance of coming to fruition.

But they’re vowing to withhold funding from Ukraine, which would be almost as stupid as weaponizing the debt ceiling. So we can’t rule it out.

For the moment, it’s an empty threat, as they can’t do anything about the $45 billion just appropriated by Congress in the December lame-duck session. Still, their Putin-envy is showing, and they’re being egged on by stochastic terrorist Tucker Carlson. If they can find a way to turn off the spigot of dollars flowing to Ukraine, they will.

That $45 billion is roughly two percent of the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending package that was passed last month, with — incredibly — bipartisan support. This was, of course, while the House of Representatives was still in the hands of adults.

The passing of that law was a vivid demonstration of the widening schism in the Republican party. Once Mitch McConnell saw that the House was about to be taken over by rogue elephants, he whipped up enough of his GOP senators to make sure the bill passed, even though they had to swallow a ton of other spending that they loathed.

Mitch and his old white guys were so appalled that any Republican could even question the Russian threat, let alone appease it, that they sucked it up and voted with the Democrats.

Even they could see that Russia is an implacable enemy of all things Western, and that it seeks to undermine democratic values by any means at its disposal, the more treacherous and cruel, the better.

Even they could see that anything that prevents Russia from doing that is well worth considering.

And even they could see that there are huge benefits to be reaped from having other people, not us, beat the crap out of Russia. Speaking of which, economist Timothy Ash puts those benefits bluntly, in an article provocatively titled “It’s Costing Peanuts for the US to Defeat Russia”:

In cold, geopolitical terms, this war provides a prime opportunity for the US to erode and degrade Russia’s conventional defense capability, with no boots on the ground and little risk to US lives.  

But before we talk about what might callously be called our ‘return on investment,’ let’s acknowledge that there is an entire country of 40 million people bearing the brunt of a horror unimaginable in our own comparatively cushy corner of the world. A huge number of Ukrainians are spending a brutal winter without heat or electricity, seeing their infrastructure destroyed, their friends and family killed, and their futures disappearing.

Yet they continue to do our dirty work. They’ve exposed glaring weaknesses in Russia’s military. They’ve forced Putin to deplete a huge percentage of his munitions, which he’ll have to replace without the Western components that made them so effective. And, with the help of Western sanctions, they’ve pushed Russia’s already backward economy even further backward, to the point where it will be playing catch-up for at least twenty years.

Ukrainian sacrifice is truly monumental, not to mention underappreciated. While they freeze, starve, and die, we not only get to replace the billions of dollars in weapons and supplies being burned through, but we also get free access to the real-time laboratory of a real war.

We get to see how our most sophisticated weapons perform under wartime conditions. We watch, from a safe distance, as Ukrainian soldiers learn, often the hard way, what works and what doesn’t. We take, from their bitter experience, valuable lessons that will make the next batch even deadlier than the last.

At the same time, we get to monitor a new kind of high-tech war, without getting our own kids killed. We can see how tanks have become surprisingly vulnerable targets, how missiles can home in on cell phone signals to lethal effect, and how boots on the ground can be less important than drones in the air. These are lessons we may one day need to draw on for our own defense, and we’re learning them the easy way.

But what we get most of all from this war is a juicing of our own economy. A huge chunk of that $45 billion is being spent right here in the U.S., as we replace and upgrade the weapons and support systems that have been used up on the battlefield.

Demand for explosives is exploding. If you’re making, say, HIMARS rockets in Camden, Arkansas, you’ve got a great job, underwritten by the federal government. Your town is booming, and you get the added jolt of patriotism from knowing that you’re striking back at a murderous enemy.

Likewise if you’re making Javelin anti-tank rockets in Troy, Alabama. Or surface-to-air missiles in Tucson, Arizona. Or Patriot missiles in Huntsville, Alabama.

And it’s not just the glamorous stuff we’re making. It’s also things like body armor, helmets, cold-weather gear, trucks, trailers, surveillance systems, generators, medical equipment, medical supplies, and just about anything else an army might need to press a war against an outlaw superpower. All these things are desperately needed in Ukraine. And they’re spreading the wealth around here.

We get all this, and more, for a mere six percent of the total U.S. defense budget, a lot of it being spent in red states. It’s hard to imagine Republican congressmen in those states wanting to kill a goose that golden. But for the right kind of theater, they just might.

For 80 years, Republicans have nurtured their loathing of Russia. You could argue that this was always more about government contracts than any innate enthusiasm for democracy. But even so, a strong national defense has always been a core value for them. Now, not so much.

There is surely no greater indicator of just how far the Republican party has fallen — or how it’s been turned inside-out by self-destructive lunacy — than in its apparent willingness to betray Ukraine in our name.

It’s not clear that they can actually do this, but it’s distressing enough that they want to.

Meanwhile, Ukrainians will continue to fight our battles for us anyway. With or without our help.


  1. Great one Andy. So true, so sad. Hopefully it helps the Ukrainians too, someday.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Elise Stefanik Wants to be Your President

It isn’t often that The New York Times and The Washington Post do lengthy features on the same politician in the same week. So when Elise Stefanik was given several thousand words in two major papers, my curiosity was duly piqued. The two pieces ( here and here ) are similar profiles of Stefanik, age 38, and her remarkable transformation from Harvard-educated “moderate” Republican, to ultra-MAGA ideologue. The subhead of the Times article states the theme of both: To rise through the Trump-era G.O.P., a young congresswoman gave up her friends, her mentors and her ideals. So how does a double feature like this happen, especially when there’s no immediate news driving it? Stefanik was not in the spotlight, though it was clear she would soon be taking a leading role in the new GOP House majority. So it could just be the coincidence of two reporters intuitively seizing on the same story. It happens. But it could also be that Stefanik herself, working with a clever publicist, set o

The Trump-Putin Bromance is Getting Another Look

The arrest last week of Charles McGonigal, former head of counterintelligence for the FBI, may or may not prove to be a watershed moment in our understanding of the Trump-Putin conspiracy. It’s still early, and the depths of the story have yet to be plumbed. So I’m not going to weigh in on that (you can read about it here ), except to note that people who’ve been watching the Trump-Russia show for over a decade are now going back to their notes and timelines, looking at old events in light of new information. And the more we all look, the more the miasma of Russian subterfuge stinks up every narrative. If a murderous oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, could actually recruit the FBI agent who’d investigated him — which the McGonigal affair will apparently show — who knows what else was going on? There is, I think, the need for some sort of “unified field theory” of the Trump-Putin relationship. There is much that we’re missing on at least three separate tracks of that bizarre bromance: Tru

Another Rousing Comeback for Antisemitism

I was in my late twenties in the late seventies, a single man sitting in a piano bar on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It was St. Patrick’s Day, and I was in friendly conversation with an older Irish couple, there to celebrate their history. He wore a green tie, she a green blouse. Alcohol was involved. The conversation was free flowing, as random encounters with amiable strangers can be. When the talk turned to history, which can happen on St. Patrick’s Day, I put forth the notion — stolen, I think, from a Leon Uris novel I’d recently read — that the Irish and the Jews had much in common, that their shared history of oppression bonded them, that their experience of suffering and privation was deeply imbued in both their cultures. Not an especially profound insight, but the husband — to the surprise not just of me, but of his wife as well — was having none of it. In his sloshed but strident state, he insisted that the suffering of Jews couldn’t possibly be compared to what the I