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Ukraine is Fighting Our Battles, So We Don’t Have To

As I steal a week off, please allow me to offer this piece from January of last year, back when Republicans had just taken control of the House and we were first entertained by the leadership skills on display, especially those of Kevin McCarthy. The piece is about Ukraine, but in re-reading it, what struck me was how much of what we’re seeing today was completely foreseeable, and widely foreseen. So while I can’t claim any special prescience, most of the speculations here have indeed come to pass, most appallingly the obtuse obstruction of supplemental funding for Ukraine. With only minor updating, I could have written this piece yesterday.

If there is one thing Republicans have always professed to believe — 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 our next batch of weapons 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.




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