Thursday, March 23, 2023




Ron DeSantis struck a moderate note in his recent comments on the war in Ukraine, drawing criticism from many Republicans. The Wall Street Journal headlines: “Pence and Other Potential GOP 2024 Rivals Pounce on DeSantis Over Ukraine Aid.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, without mentioning Ron DeSantis by name, rebuked the Florida governor Saturday for his isolationist approach to the war in Ukraine.

Isolationist approach? Seriously?

A sharp divide inside the GOP over U.S. involvement in Ukraine has made Mr. DeSantis the target of widespread Republican criticism for suggesting America should focus on problems closer to home.

The Journal quotes a number of Republicans, and some “Republicans” like Bill Kristol:

Bill Kristol, co-founder of the now-closed conservative Weekly Standard magazine and a critic of Mr. Trump, said he thinks there is room in the GOP primary for a candidate more supportive of Ukraine, and more critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, than are Messrs. DeSantis and Trump.

No doubt that is true, and that lane is already filled by Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, and no doubt others in due course. But what did DeSantis actually say that has generated such controversy?

DeSantis, along with other potential Republican contenders, answered a series of questions posed by Tucker Carlson. You can see the questions and the answers provided by DeSantis and others here. This is DeSantis’s response in full:

While the U.S. has many vital national interests – securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness within our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party – becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them. The Biden administration’s virtual “blank check” funding of this conflict for “as long as it takes,” without any defined objectives or accountability, distracts from our country’s most pressing challenges.

Without question, peace should be the objective. The U.S. should not provide assistance that could require the deployment of American troops or enable Ukraine to engage in offensive operations beyond its borders. F-16s and long-range missiles should therefore be off the table. These moves would risk explicitly drawing the United States into the conflict and drawing us closer to a hot war between the world’s two largest nuclear powers. That risk is unacceptable.

A policy of “regime change” in Russia (no doubt popular among the DC foreign policy interventionists) would greatly increase the stakes of the conflict, making the use of nuclear weapons more likely. Such a policy would neither stop the death and destruction of the war, nor produce a pro-American, Madisonian constitutionalist in the Kremlin. History indicates that Putin’s successor, in this hypothetical, would likely be even more ruthless. The costs to achieve such a dubious outcome could become astronomical.

The Biden administration’s policies have driven Russia into a de facto alliance with China. Because China has not and will not abide by the embargo, Russia has increased its foreign revenues while China benefits from cheaper fuel. Coupled with his intentional depletion of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and support for the Left’s Green New Deal, Biden has further empowered Russia’s energy-dominated economy and Putin’s war machine at Americans’ expense.

Our citizens are also entitled to know how the billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are being utilized in Ukraine.

We cannot prioritize intervention in an escalating foreign war over the defense of our own homeland, especially as tens of thousands of Americans are dying every year from narcotics smuggled across our open border and our weapons arsenals critical for our own security are rapidly being depleted.

It is hard to see what is objectionable in that statement. Becoming further entangled in the Ukraine is not a “vital national interest” of the U.S.? I agree. Our objective should be to try to bring about an end to the conflict? I agree. We should not go to great lengths (including risking a wider war) to try to bring about regime change in Russia, the consequences of which are unpredictable? I agree. Biden’s policies have both empowered Russia and driven it into a closer alliance with China, to our detriment? I agree. Americans are entitled to know how our tens of billions of dollars in aid are being spent? I agree. And we should not prioritize intervention in a foreign war over defense of our homeland? I agree. Who wouldn’t?

DeSantis’s comments are, in my view, hard to take issue with. Critics have fastened on his use of the phrase “territorial dispute” to describe the conflict. That phrase is accurate, although harsher descriptions would also be appropriate. But the question is one of tone and optics, more than policy prescriptions.

To the extent that DeSantis sounds less enthusiastic than some about committing endless resources to Ukraine, I think he is in tune with most Republican voters–and will be even more so by the time the presidential campaign heats up. The Journal notes that “[p]olling shows a steady decline in Republican support for aiding Ukraine over the past year,” a trend I expect to continue.

I came of age at a time when liberal apologists for the Soviet Union were trying to sell America out to the Russian Empire, so it is jarring when Tulsi Gabbard, for example, denounces D.C. liberals as warmongers. But in the present moment, that characterization is defensible.

In any event, anyone who thinks Republican voters are more in tune with Bill Kristol than with Ron DeSantis (and, of course, Donald Trump) is sadly mistaken.

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