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March 15, 2023

DeSantis Opposes Offensive Weapons for Ukraine

Yesterday’s drone incident over the Black Sea reinvigorated an important debate about our nation’s Ukraine policy.

Looks like our expensive proxy war with Russia just got a little more expensive.

Yesterday’s attack and ultimate downing by Russia of an unarmed $32 million U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea once again raises questions about the wisdom of our involvement in an admittedly awful border war between Ukraine and Russia.

The knock-down incident occurred in international airspace over international waters when one of two Su-27s flying in tandem collided with our drone, damaging its propeller and forcing it to ditch into the Black Sea, west of Crimea.

As Fox News reports, “The State Department is summoning Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov to express its ‘strong objections’ to the intercept, spokesman Ned Price confirmed to reporters.”

In response, U.S. European Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe issued a statement that reads in part: “Several times before the collision, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner. This incident demonstrates a lack of competence in addition to being unsafe and unprofessional.”

Ooooh. They kill one of our drones, so we scold them for being “unprofessional” and “environmentally unsound.” (If there’s one thing that wounds the Russians deeply, it’s calling into question their environmental soundness.)

And so, once again, Joe Biden’s weakness proves provocative. Instead of a sternly worded memo, Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, whom even NPR conceded was the toughest U.S. president ever when it came to Russia, would’ve probably greased some Russian mercs somewhere. Elections have consequences.

What do the Russians say about this incident, which appears to be the most direct attack against a NATO aircraft since the end of the Cold War? Predictably, they say our drone was traveling toward Russia with its transponders off, and they say our drone ditched following the intercept.

Ambassador Antonov wasn’t exactly apologetic. “We assume that the U.S. will refrain from further speculation in the media and stop flights near Russian borders,” he said. “We consider any action with the use of U.S. as openly hostile.”

Translation: Pound sand, Joey.

All this brings us to Tucker Carlson, who, in a simple act of journalism that somehow never dawned on any other journalist anywhere, recently polled the likely and announced Republican presidential candidates about the matter that, next to combating Communist China, is the most important foreign policy issue currently facing our nation: namely, our ill-defined, blank-check support of Ukraine in the above-mentioned proxy war with Russia.

Carlson asked six questions: 1) Is opposing Russia in Ukraine a vital American national strategic interest? 2) What specifically is our objective in Ukraine, and how will we know when we’ve achieved it? 3) What is the limit of funding and materiel you would be willing to send to the government of Ukraine? 4) Should the United States support regime change in Russia? 5) Given that Russia’s economy and currency are stronger than before the war, do you believe that U.S. sanctions have been effective? And 6) Do you believe the United States faces the risk of nuclear war with Russia?

Donald Trump was always there, always against it, and his response to Carlson’s questions was unequivocal:

Like inflation and numerous other self inflicted wounds and mistakes made over the past two years, Russia would definitely not have raided and attacked Ukraine if I was your President. In fact, for four years they didn’t attack, nor did they have any intention of doing so as long as I was in charge. But the sad fact is that, due to a new lack of respect for the U.S., caused at least partially by our incompetently handled pullout from Afghanistan … the bloody and expensive assault began, and continues to this day. That is all history, but how does it end, and it must end, NOW! Start by telling Europe that they must pay at least equal to what the U.S. is paying to help Ukraine. They must also pay us, retroactively, the difference. … The President must meet with each side, then both sides together, and quickly work out a deal. This can be easily done if conducted by the right President. Both sides are weary and ready to make a deal. The meetings should start immediately, there is no time to spare. The death and destruction MUST END NOW! Properly executed, this terrible and tragic War, a War that never should have started in the first place, will come to a speedy end.

Now Ron DeSantis has joined Trump, putting considerable distance between himself and the stay-the-course, blank-check approach of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who in December said, “In the defense part of our expenditures, making sure the Defense Department can deal with the major threats coming from Russia and China, providing assistance for Ukrainians to defeat the Russians, that’s the number one priority of the United States right now, according to most Republicans.”

China and Ukraine are two separate issues, of course, except insofar as Biden’s proxy war has pushed Russia closer to China, which is our number-one geopolitical threat. It seems sloppy at best to conflate them as part of a single “number one priority.” DeSantis, though, thinks we as a nation have other more pressing priorities. He began:

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.

DeSantis continued, saying that potentially offensive F-16 fighters and long-range missiles should be “off the table” and that Biden risks “explicitly drawing the United States into the conflict and drawing us closer to a hot war between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.” He rightly calls that risk “unacceptable.”

DeSantis further notes that Biden’s policies “have driven Russia into a de facto alliance with China” and have “further empowered Russia’s energy-dominated economy and Putin’s war machine at Americans’ expense.”

Some pro-Ukraine Republicans have criticized DeSantis for his stance, but, as columnist Byron York notes, his position about not “becoming further entangled” as DeSantis qualified it, on Ukraine puts him “in the mainstream.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, incidentally, also responded to Carlson’s questions, and his pro-Ukraine, stay-the-course position tends to align with our Mark Alexander’s position and presidential candidate Nikki Haley, though Alexander agrees with DeSantis that we should not provide offense weapons that could draw NATO into direct kinetic action with Russia, and by extension, draw the U.S. into that warfare.

“Our movement,” said Pence, “cannot forsake the foundational commitment that we have to security, to limited government, to liberty, and to life. But nor can we allow our movement to be led astray by the siren song of unprincipled populism that’s unmoored from our oldest traditions and most cherished values,” he told an audience at The Heritage Foundation. “Let me say: This movement and the party that it animates must remain the movement of a strong national defense, limited government, and traditional moral values and life.”

Pence added: “There can be no room in the conservative movement for apologists to Putin. There is only room in this movement for champions of freedom.”

We’ve always believed Mike Pence to be an extraordinarily fair and decent man and an outstanding Christian, and, as a retired Marine, we appreciate his son’s service in our beloved Corps. But calling those who stand in principled opposition to our proxy war with Russia “Putin apologists” is, I believe, both incorrect and unduly hyperbolic.

Not all the candidates responded, but those who did provided some important insights into their foreign policy philosophies. You can read more on Carlson’s Twitter account.


Updated to include Tucker Carlson’s six questions, a lengthier quote from former President Trump, a clarification of Governor DeSantis’s position, and a response to former VP Pence’s remark about “Putin apologists.

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