Ukraine Needs American Weapons, Not More GOP Drama

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Written By Pinang Driod

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Republicans need to recover their senses about the dire moral and strategic tests Ukraine and the West face in Europe.

First, here are three new stories from The Atlantic:

  • The nonsensical impeachment of Alejandro Mayorkas
  • “What I found in San Francisco”
  • Chicken Littles are ruining America.


A Test of Will and Commitment

Wars test people and weapons on a battlefield, but eventual victory rests on much more than combat. Wars also stress-test political institutions, ideas, and the courage of entire societies. At this moment, the United States is on the verge of failing a challenge of will and commitment, much to the delight of the neo-fascist Russian regime that has turned Ukraine’s fields and homes into an immense abattoir. President Joe Biden, most of NATO, and many other nations recognize the crisis, but the world could face a Russian victory—and an eventual escalation of Russian aggression against Europe—solely because of the ongoing drama and inane bickering within the Republican Party.

The GOP, the party of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, once supported the bipartisan American understanding that U.S. leadership in the world was both a strategic and a moral imperative, especially in the great struggle with the Soviet Union. Reagan, however, supercharged the idea of the Cold War as a moral crusade. When he talked about the need for the West to oppose an “evil empire,” he meant it—and as we found out years later, his words stung Soviet leaders. As one adviser to Mikhail Gorbachev later admitted, Reagan’s rhetorical attack did not change much at the very top in the Kremlin, but for many of the people who worked in Soviet foreign-policy circles, “this term and this propaganda was perceived as punishment for what we did in Afghanistan. In other words, we felt that we deserved it.”

Soviet leaders deserved it then and Russian leaders deserve it now. Reagan’s detractors will point to his policies in Central America and elsewhere as examples of what can happen when righteous fixation on noble ends leads to the justification of bloody and repulsive means. But Reagan—like Jimmy Carter before him—was right to view opposition to the Kremlin as both strategically necessary and morally just, as it is again today. Biden’s policy of steadfast support for Ukraine wisely continues that tradition.

(One of Carter’s speechwriters told me years ago that, as you might expect, Carter never liked being compared to Reagan. But Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was as much a Cold War hawk as almost anyone in the Reagan administration, and Carter infuriated the Soviets so badly that by 1980 the Kremlin, according to the former Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, was rooting for Reagan to win because it thought Carter and Brzezinski were so dangerously bellicose.)

Reagan understood the Cold War as a moral issue, but today’s GOP is incapable of understanding anything as a moral issue. Indeed, the Republican Party is defined now almost entirely by its dedication to a cult of personality, the relentless quest for raw power, and the ongoing effort to institutionalize minority rule. It functions not as a political party but as an amoral claque whose members are dedicated only to their mutual protection.

Ukraine, of course, is an object of special hostility for Republicans because that besieged nation is inextricably bound up in Trump’s first impeachment. Some in the GOP also admire Russian President Vladimir Putin; Trump speaks of the Kremlin dictator in terms that would have made Reagan furious and disgusted. But nothing, it seems, can get through the Republican deflector shields powered by two of the strongest forces in the world: resentment and self-interest.

Money to help Ukraine is, for now, still tied to legislation regarding the situation on the U.S. southern border, but Biden has already surrendered on that issue: He said on Saturday that, if Congress sent him the bill that Republicans have been working on, “I’d shut down the border right now and fix it quickly.” (He is also cleverly using his legal authority to send surplus American weapons to allies—in this case, Greece—who can use these surplus U.S. arms to replenish their stocks while they send their older weapons to Ukraine.) But Republicans aren’t interested in fixing the border or helping Ukraine—not if any of it helps Joe Biden, a detestable position that abandons millions of people to slaughter under Russian guns simply for the sake of good press from the GOP’s infotainment system.

To their credit, some Republicans are trying to do the right thing. I was critical of Oklahoma Senator James Lankford on Monday for answering a question about Trump’s fitness to be president with a mouthful of mush that was, if I may paraphrase a Bible verse I’m sure the senator knows well, neither hot nor cold but lukewarm. But when it comes to the border and Ukraine, Lankford (along with some of his Senate GOP colleagues) is on the right side of both policy and history.

What, however, does a GOP senator gain by being on the right side of anything? In Lankford’s case, it earned him censure from his own state’s Republican Party. For others, it means facing an electorate that is now being flooded with news about Deep State Agent Taylor Swift instead of whether America and Europe can hold back a savage—and nuclear-armed—enemy.

The Republicans now wallowing in conspiracy weirdness and jumping at Trump’s commands are risking a mistake, in the words of CIA Director William Burns, “of historic proportions.” As the GOP plays games, the Russians continue blowing apart homes and shredding human beings, including their own hapless conscripts. The killing goes on every day, driven by a cruel and petty paranoid in Moscow and supported by a coterie of cowards who issue unhinged threats from behind the safety of the Kremlin’s walls.

Changes are afoot in the Ukrainian high command; The Washington Post reported today that the top Ukrainian commander, General Valery Zaluzhny, is about to be replaced because of his ongoing disagreements with President Volodymyr Zelensky about strategy, mobilization, and other issues. Such moments, as retired Australian Major General Mick Ryan explained in a cogent thread on X yesterday, are a normal part of the civil-military tensions that inevitably arise in wartime.

Some Republicans, driven by their hatred of Zelensky, will no doubt seize on any news from Kyiv as an excuse to hold back aid, but the Ukrainians don’t need more drama from the self-absorbed GOP. They need brave and clear-eyed friends in the West who understand what is at stake, both for the security of the world and the defense of freedom. They need more than our good wishes: They need ammunition, and they need it now.

Related:

  • The GOP’s great betrayal
  • Is Congress really going to abandon Ukraine now?


Today’s News

  1. Five CEOs of social-media companies testified today about online child safety during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and Snap’s Evan Spiegel publicly apologized to the families whose children were harmed by their platforms.
  2. The White House said it believes that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of militants that includes Kataib Hezbollah, was responsible for a drone attack that killed three U.S. service members in Jordan.
  3. President Biden has picked John Podesta, his senior adviser for clean energy, to replace John Kerry as the top U.S. diplomat on climate policy.


Dispatches

  • Work in Progress: Republicans want to outlaw state investment in “woke capital” funds they see as tainted by progressive ideology, but that might reduce returns, James Surowiecki writes.
  • Up for Debate: Conor Friedersdorf compiles reader responses on the state of their local journalism.
  • The Weekly Planet: If you want cheap or innovative electric vehicles, chances are you won’t find them in America, Jason Torchinsky writes.

Explore all of our newsletters here.


Evening Read

Melanie Metz / The New York Times / Redux

A Trove of ‘Lost Basquiats’ Led to a Splashy Exhibition. Then the FBI Showed Up.

By Bianca Bosker

The paintings that appeared on eBay in the fall of 2012 featured skeletal figures with frenzied eyes, blocky crowns, and gnashing rows of teeth. They were done in brilliant blues and electric reds, mostly on scraps of cardboard that ranged from notebook-size to as big as a kitchen table. According to the man who was selling them—a professional auctioneer named Michael Barzman—he’d found them in a storage unit whose contents he’d bought after its renter had fallen behind on his bills …

In early 2022, 25 of the pieces, all attributed to [Jean-Michel] Basquiat, made their public debut at the Orlando Museum of Art, or OMA, a 100-year-old institution whose past shows have included works by Rembrandt and Robert Rauschenberg. The museum hailed the exhibition as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see “extraordinary” paintings that offered an intimate view into Basquiat’s soul …

The celebration ended when, four months into the show’s run, FBI agents seized all 25 artworks on the grounds that they were evidence of conspiracy and fraud.

Read the full article.

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Culture Break

A Honduran mother and her son stand on the bank of the Rio Grande after rafting across the border from Mexico in 2021
John Moore / Getty

Read. Jonathan Blitzer’s new book, Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here, helps explain the immigration crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

See the light. LEDs have plummeted in cost and improved in quality, ushering in a new era of well-lit art shows and cultural events, Annie Lowrey writes.

Play our daily crossword.


Stephanie Bai contributed to this newsletter.

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Tom Nichols is a staff writer at The Atlantic and an author of the Atlantic Daily newsletter.

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