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November 30, 2022

Is Ukraine an American Priority?

The U.S. has committed billions in military aid to the besieged country, but what about the threat from China?

As winter approaches and the war in Ukraine grinds on into its tenth month, Russia’s hopes for a quick victory have long since evaporated. So have Ukraine’s hopes that an international coalition would somehow force the invader back across the border from whence it came.

Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was his latest bid to rebuild Czarist Russia in his own image. The timing seemed right. The U.S. was preoccupied with domestic issues and its feckless president would, Putin believed, go soft when challenged — he showed as much in the disgraceful retreat from Afghanistan. Europe was equally squishy about confrontation and beholden to Russia for much of its energy. China was a fair-weather ally that would not stand in the way of Putin’s imperialist expansion.

What Putin didn’t count on was that the Ukrainian people would be so resilient, or that his beloved military wouldn’t be ready for a war that many Western experts assumed would be over in days or weeks. America, along with its European and Asian allies, came to Ukraine’s aid. The U.S. kicked things off with a $40 billion aid package shortly after the war began, including emergency items for civilians and military personnel. Then came the equipment, and more food, clothing, and assorted matériel.

Now, as 2022 nears an end, the conflict has transitioned from a blitzkrieg to a war of attrition, one for which Republicans do not want to continue footing the bill.

Incoming House Speaker Kevin McCarthy indicated before the midterms that the “blank check to Ukraine” might come to an end once Republicans are in charge. Democrats and members of Washington’s foreign policy community caught a case of the vapors at hearing McCarthy’s words.

There is, however, still support for Ukraine within the GOP. Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas is a full-throated advocate for aid, as is Michael Turner of Ohio, the current ranking member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

But the winds are shifting. An October Wall Street Journal poll revealed that 48% of Republicans said the U.S. was doing too much for Ukraine, up from 6% in March.

Republicans and many voters still possess a moral desire to support Ukraine, but sending endless money to a notoriously corrupt country for open-ended conflict doesn’t sit well with the American public. There’s also the practical matter of what the U.S. can do for Ukraine. Our nation is not in a position of great strength thanks to Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden, who frittered away America’s strategic advantage by shrinking and awokening our military machine. We can’t fight Russia and contain China at the same time.

If it comes down to a choice, the U.S. may have to pick either protecting Ukraine or Taiwan. In Ukraine, we may have already proved the debilitated state of the Russian military, which is being bled dry in its failed war of conquest. This escapade can’t have done Putin’s domestic popularity any favors, either, though he still manages to keep his hold on power. Our NATO allies could also contribute more, since they have far more at stake in the short term than the U.S.

Asia is a different story, however. China is a much more powerful player than Russia — especially economically — and the U.S. will need to focus the bulk of its finite resources deterring ChiCom aggression against Taiwan and our other Pacific allies. Ukraine still deserves our support, but only what we can afford to spare after our primary strategic imperative is addressed.

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