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Rich Lowry / May 20, 2022

Don’t Be Penny-Wise on Ukraine

There’s no getting around the fact that it costs lots of money to support a country fighting against an advanced military foe.

Populist critics have gone after the new $40 billion in aid to Ukraine hammer and tongs. Donald Trump has complained that we are sending billions to Ukraine “yet America’s parents are struggling to even feed their children.” Republican Sen. Josh Hawley calls the assistance “unfocused globalism.”

There’s no doubt that $40 billion constitutes a vast sum, even in Washington, D.C., circa 2022, but the expenditure is warranted.

At the end of the day, there’s no getting around the fact that it costs lots of money to support a country fighting a war in the 21st century against an advanced, if incompetent, military foe.

We would have saved tens of billions of dollars, at least initially, if we had never aided Ukraine and contented ourselves with letting Russia overrun it. But a victorious Putin would have posed a more direct threat to NATO. That would have caused an even bigger military build-up in the West than we are seeing now, and we would have been part of it, unless we were to decide to give up on our most important alliance.

The Ukraine war might be expensive, but it is the Ukrainians doing the fighting. They are degrading the military of an adversary of the United States and trying to push it away from NATO’s borders without a single U.S. or Western soldier engaged in the fight. All things considered, this is a deal.

Nearly $9 billion of the package replenishes U.S. stockpiles after Biden sent U.S. weapons to Ukraine on an emergency basis using Presidential Drawdown Authority. It’d be perverse not to replenish our supplies of Javelins at this point in the name of economizing over Ukraine.

Likewise, several billion dollars in the package pay for the U.S. deployment of troops to NATO countries.

Part of the military aid is billions of dollars in financing for Ukraine and NATO countries to buy U.S. weapons, something that Trump has supported strongly in the past on “America First” grounds.

Indeed, it is strange that critics of the bills are invoking nationalism in their opposition. Hawley worries that the bill doesn’t represent “a nationalist foreign policy.”

By what definition? Assisting a sovereign country in defending its borders against a nation bent on restoring its imperial glory is a broadly nationalist project. So is resisting an adversary of the United States that, together with its de facto ally, China, wants to reduce our national power and influence, and end the preeminence of the U.S.-led Western world.

It’s not as though the assistance keeps us from pursuing urgent domestic priorities. We don’t have a baby formula shortage because we’ve sent too many weapons to Ukraine, and the shortage — in large part, a regulatory problem — would still exist if our new level of assistance to Ukraine were $0. The same is true with the border. Biden is not interested in the policies that might restore order there, which was true prior to the Ukraine war and will presumably be true after.

There’s certainly more Europe could do, especially regarding general support for the Ukrainian government and food assistance to Ukraine and countries most affected by war-related disruptions. Our other allies who don’t have an interest in taking sides between Ukraine and Russia should be providing food assistance, as well.

There should be no mistaking, though, that the stakes in the war are large. The outcome will profoundly affect the future of Ukraine, the robustness of the Western alliance, perhaps the nature of the Russian regime, and China’s consideration of whether or not it is too risky to try to take Taiwan by force.

“Paris is worth a Mass,” Henry of Navarre supposedly said before converting to Roman Catholicism and becoming king of France in the 16th century. Similarly, staving off Russia, and perhaps defeating it without firing a shot, is worth $40 billion.

© 2022 by King Features Syndicate

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