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Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s weak leadership, the G-20 just refused to condemn Russia for its barbaric invasion of Ukraine, as it did last year. I assured European allies on a recent bipartisan delegation that although global resolve might be softening, America’s is not. Now Congress, in its upcoming debate over further Ukraine aid, must put our money where our mouth is.
Many members are reading downbeat reports from the frontlines of the conflict. All members hear the isolationist rhetoric from the GOP’s presidential frontrunners, most notably Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, who channels former President Donald Trump in arguing that America should not want Vladimir Putin to lose.
In response, Republicans and Democrats should double down on Congress’s support for Ukraine. A bipartisan economic and military lifeline will bring peace closer to hand and strengthen the United States. In Ukraine, it will sustain the counter-offensive, the success of which is necessary leverage for potential negotiations. To Russia, it will reset Putin’s calculation that the Kremlin can outlast Washington’s willpower. And for America, it will demonstrate the example of our power, and the power of our example, to Russia’s “no-limits” ally, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Republicans are wavering. Donald Trump has eviscerated the GOP electorate’s support for Ukraine, against Russia’s barbaric invasion. Indeed, GOP presidential candidates with sour attitudes to Ukraine collectively poll at 70%+ nationally. House Republicans, who are already skeptical of voting with the president, are doubly disinclined to anger that primary base entering an election year.
This political calculation is aggravated by pessimistic coverage of the counter-offensive. Yes, it is moving slowly. But as retired Gen. David Petraeus recently wrote, military campaigns are not linear. The Ukrainians’ starve-stretch-strike strategy is incremental in the starve-and-stretch phase. In the strike phase, gains could be exponential.
That phase-change must be predicated on battleground conditions, not on American politics. By coming together for a convincing bipartisan vote for a further $24B in aid to Ukraine, Congress could disentangle Ukrainian military strategy from U.S. partisan dynamics. This advances the cause of peace.
For one, the money and materiel sustains the counter-offensive. Ukraine cannot negotiate from its present condition. It must improve its access to the Black Sea, its territorial control, and its ability to threaten Russian assets before Kyiv might have the mandate and leverage to enter talks.
Just as importantly, bipartisan congressional support to expand funding would be a wake-up call to Putin. Right now, Putin’s strategy is two words: Trump wins. In the meantime, the Kremlin wants Ukraine to get mired in the muck of MAGA. Encouragingly, eighty percent of the House voted against MAGA proposals to cut Ukraine funding in recent National Defense Authorization amendments. Passing the supplemental funding by a similar margin would make it unmistakeable: you can’t run down the clock on Western resolve, because Congress has elevated Ukraine above party politics, as it has done with China.
These two foreign policy priorities are intertwined. Xi Jinping and Putin are personally close and politically bonded. They want to replace the Pax Americana with a new world order where might makes right and where individuals are pawns of the state. The Chinese Communist Party, which is mismanaging its economy at home, may seek further aggression abroad to rally its discontented people. Beijing is watching for weakness. The United States should show strength.
Critics contend that money can’t buy strength if the right weapons aren’t procured. It is true that Ukraine would benefit from F-16s, long-range precision-strike capabilities, and more ammunition, and the administration should make haste. But the argument that America should do more, and faster, only reinforces our contention that doing nothing is not acceptable.
More disconcerting is the false equivalence between Ukraine and Afghanistan. They are, in fact, a case study of opposites. Afghanistan’s government was a weak host partner, where U.S. troops were fighting without an endgame. International buy-in was frayed.
In Ukraine, there are no U.S. troops in combat. The host country is united around a clear and compelling mission. And international buy-in is so deep that it has fortified multilateral institutions. Unlike the sunk cost of the Afghanistan debacle, every dollar sent to Ukraine has yielded dividends. NATO is stronger and Russia is weaker – though our European allies need to increase their defense spending to lock in this advantage. And the United States is now more credible in the Indo-Pacific when it proclaims, with allies, that might will not make right.
Last term, as a freshman Democrat, I worked with Republicans like Wyoming’s Liz Cheney to rally bipartisan support for Ukraine. Cheney and I argued it was important for the cause of democracy at home and abroad.
Since then, democracy has made progress. Trump is answering to the rule of law. Ukraine is on offense. But the former is threatening the latter, and Congress must continue to support the cause.