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The Perilous Rise of the Putin Republicans
They would have the United States abandon its defense of freedom and democracy.
“WE IN THIS COUNTRY . . . are . . . the watchmen on the walls of world freedom.” So President John F. Kennedy would have said at the Dallas Trade Mart on November 22, 1963, had he not been shot down that day by Lee Harvey Oswald, an ex-Marine who had defected to the Soviet Union.
In arguing for the defense of the free world, Kennedy represented a long tradition in U.S. foreign policy. In 1917, Woodrow Wilson made the case for bringing the United States into the war in Europe by insisting that “the world must be safe for democracy.” In the dark days of 1940, Franklin Roosevelt declared that, rather than deserting the British then bravely defending freedom’s walls, the United States should become the “arsenal of democracy.”
In the decades of Cold War after Kennedy’s death, America persisted in holding the line. However imperfectly, however incompletely, presidents of both parties sought to stand with freedom and democracy—often in the face of considerable uncertainty and having to overcome opposition from domestic political forces. As a result of this sustained resolve, not only were the democracies of Western Europe protected from Communist domination, but the captive nations of Eastern Europe were freed. The world is a safer, more peaceful, and freer place because of this principled determination to protect freedom.
But most of today’s prominent contenders for the presidency would discard this tradition. Kennedy’s nephew, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., reportedly preparing an independent bid for the presidency, would withdraw all U.S. forces from their posts around the globe. This kookery is nearly matched by that offered by Vivek Ramaswamy (he would abandon only the defense of the Eastern Hemisphere). Donald Trump would, among other things, almost certainly withdraw the United States from NATO if given a second term. Ron DeSantis has been cagey and evasive on the matter of supporting Ukraine.
AND IT’S NOT JUST the presidential candidates. Over this past weekend, a bloc of House Republicans made it clear that their number-one priority in the budget negotiations was to cut off aid to Ukraine. Rather than accept a deal negotiated by Speaker Kevin McCarthy that would have imposed substantial fiscal restraint on the federal government—including 30 percent cuts in numerous liberal hobby-horse programs—but preserved military aid to Ukraine, the intransigent Republicans accepted an agreement that did the exact opposite: kept the entire government funded so long as no new aid went to Ukraine. In this they were backed up by a group of Senate Republicans that rejected the counsel of their own leader, Mitch McConnell, who had urged continued support for Ukraine.
For years, Republicans have expressed outrage at Democrats’ accusations that Donald Trump or his campaign colluded with the Kremlin. But what can one say when the controlling faction of House Republicans makes assuring Russian victory their top priority?
Let us be clear: We are seeing the rise of the Putin Republicans. It is a faction that joins Trump in his sympathies with Moscow and that rejects the U.S. role as a defender of freedom and democracy.
Furthermore, opposition to U.S. support of Ukraine also serves the interests of Beijing. Russia and China are allies. If Russia conquers Ukraine—enhancing Russia’s material and technological power, deleting Ukraine’s million-man army from the West’s order of battle, advancing its forces to the borders of NATO members Poland and Romania, and eliminating Russia’s strategic weakness along its southwest border that otherwise would constrain its ability to attack elsewhere—the idea of American protection will be discredited, and countries everywhere will move to cut their deals with the world’s new masters.
This catastrophe must be averted. In this hour, America needs Republicans who offer a vision of America’s future leadership in the world, not Putin Republicans. President Biden has been much too slow in his support of Ukraine, caring more about sending the right signals than sending the needed arms. Republican candidates for the presidency should promise leadership that offers victory, not accelerated defeat followed by global rout. And pro-Ukraine Republicans in both houses of Congress should work with Democrats to restore and strengthen support for Ukraine.
By destiny, rather than choice, we are the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We need to live up to that role.
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