The war in Ukraine seems to be entering a new critical phase. Vladimir Putin has declared martial law in the four Ukrainian provinces that he illegally claims as Russian territory, even though Russian control over them is shaky. Ukrainian forces have started an offensive to recapture the capital of one of these provinces, Kherson — the liberation of which many say would irrevocably doom the Russian invasion. Russia, failing on the battlefield despite a tragicomically inept “partial mobilization,” is trying to make up for these failures by bombing Ukrainian cities and civilian infrastructure.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggests that if Republicans get the House majority in next month’s midterm elections, further U.S. military aid to Ukraine is in doubt. These are reckless comments that should backfire against the GOP.
To be clear, McCarthy has not said that a Republican majority would try to cut off all aid. What he said, in an interview with the Punchbowl News site, was that “they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.” He then reiterated that “Ukraine is important,” but it can’t be the only focus and “it can’t be a blank check.”
Of course, no one is saying that Ukraine should be the U.S. government’s only or top priority, or should get a “blank check.” Thus, McCarthy’s comments are either meaningless rhetoric or a signal that House Republicans would try to block or dramatically reduce aid to Ukraine.
It’s hardly a secret that a sizable faction in the Donald Trump-dominated GOP — and the right in general — is not just skeptical of generous U.S. military aid to Ukraine but dislikes U.S. support for Ukraine in general. Some espouse isolationism and believe the conflict in Ukraine is none of our business. Some view Ukraine through a partisan and conspiratorial lens — not as a struggling democracy under attack, but as a project of Hillary Clinton’s State Department and a corrupt playground of the Biden family. Some believe support for Ukraine is driven by the Democrats’ desire for revenge against Putin for his alleged role in helping Trump win the White House. Some are even taken in by Kremlin propagandists’ claim that Russia is waging holy war against a godless, depraved West.
Notably, such attitudes do not resonate among Americans, including GOP voters. In the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, 73% said the U.S. should continue to back Ukraine; while more Democrats took this view (81%), so did 66% of Republicans. Overall, 68% of respondents said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who favors continued military aid to Ukraine.
McCarthy’s comments could — and should — hurt Republicans in House races. But they may also have a pernicious effect on a wider arena.
In recent days, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has said more than once that he believes Putin is trying to reinforce Russian positions in Ukraine in the hope that if pro-Trump Republicans win a majority in Congress, they will cut off or drastically reduce deliveries of weapons to Ukraine and give Russia a chance to regain the momentum. McCarthy’s words send a message to both Kyiv and Moscow that such a calculation is correct and unquestionably emboldens Putin.
Yes, other democracies, in Europe and elsewhere, should be doing more to counter Putin’s aggression. But when U.S. politicians signal a desire to step back from America’s role as the leader of the free world, it weakens, not strengthens, other democracies’ commitment to the fight against the Kremlin’s authoritarian imperialism.
Other issues aside, it’s a good reason to root for a Democratic Congress.
Opinions expressed by Cathy Young, a cultural studies fellow at the Cato Institute, are her own.