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The far-right’s pro-Russia posture endangers the nation and the world

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., joined by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., right, speaks during a news conference about Ukraine at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Throughout the 20th century, American leadership was paramount in pushing back against authoritarian and revisionist dictators who sought to undermine global peace and quash human rights. 

Both Democrats and Republicans alike recognized that the United States could ill afford to take a passive role on the world stage, as problems in Europe or Asia would eventually make their way to our shores. It was an accepted principle that, when democracy was being threatened abroad, America would come to its defense. 

However, this ideal has come under fire since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Isolationist tendencies have become increasingly prominent on the political right, and Republicans have been leading the charge to curtail U.S. support for Ukraine, a sovereign and democratic nation that Russian President Vladimir Putin has brutalized and tried to lay claim to.  

In the early days of the war, only far-right nationalists such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) were doing Putin’s bidding by lobbying for a reduction in American support for Ukraine.  

But as with other fringe views, this position quickly infiltrated the mainstream, and dozens of high-profile GOP officials have adopted a similarly pro-Russian posture. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) even called the U.S.’s current support level for Ukraine a “blank check.”  

Congressional Republicans have attempted to frame their positions as ‘realism’ — arguing that the U.S. cannot afford to continue supporting Ukraine as inflation weighs on American families, and should not be risking a nuclear war with Russia over a country that is thousands of miles away. 

To be fair, the left wing of the Democratic party has also loudly expressed their opposition to continued aid to Ukraine in a now-retracted letter to the Biden administration, painting the conflict as a result of NATO and American pro-war policies. Not only does this view put the far-left in league with the far-right, but it is also a toxic and misguided view that forgives Putin while assigning total blame to the United States. 

Yet, this is a strategically flawed proposition, a political miscalculation and a direct endangerment of our national security. 

Those who rely on a cost-benefit argument to suggest that the United States should reduce our support for Ukraine fail to recognize that America has committed just a fraction of our annual defense spending — a sum equivalent to roughly 6 percent — to aid the brave Ukrainian people and erode Russia’s military might. Even more critically, we have done so with zero American casualties. 

The right’s isolationist argument is also a loser politically, as the majority (57 percent) of Americans surveyed in a November Beacon Research poll taken on behalf of the Ronald Reagan Foundation, along with 51 percent of Republicans (shown in crosstabs), believe the U.S. should continue standing with Ukraine in order to protect Europe and prevent future Russian aggression. Likewise, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans, including the majority (56 percent) of Republicans (shown in crosstabs), feel that the U.S. should either maintain or increase the amount of aid we’re currently providing to Ukraine.

There should be no debate over whether a Putin-controlled Russia is a threat to the United States. Vladimir Putin is a dictator and a war criminal whose military has interfered in our own elections, and those on the political right — including but not limited to the former president — who kowtow to him are actively putting the free world at risk.  

If the U.S. significantly curtails aid to Ukraine, other Western nations will follow suit. This will only embolden Putin to continue his expansionist efforts, perhaps even into NATO territory, thus increasing the risk of a direct war between the United States and Russia.  

Philosopher George Santayana’s warning, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” is pertinent. We know that Putin is guided by an imperialist and fascist agenda, and by a desire to restore Soviet-era dominance over its neighbors. History has also shown us that, when a despot is willing to back his agenda with military force, the results are devasting if they are not confronted.  

And make no mistake, supporting Ukraine is not only a matter of countering Vladimir Putin. It is just as much about sending a loud message to other autocratic leaders — particularly in Beijing and Tehran — that the United States will not stand by as democracy is actively threatened abroad. 

About 40 years ago, former Republican president Ronald Reagan branded the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” and rallied the free world around bringing it down. We must not overlook the fact that the same corrupt, authoritarian and despotic values that characterized the Soviet Union in the Reagan era are embodied by Vladimir Putin. 

Unfortunately, many on the political right seem to have forgotten history — or worse, are choosing to ignore it.  

To note, there are several prominent Republicans who have rightfully denounced and called out isolationists in the party. Former Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech to this effect recently, noting that “appeasement has never worked, ever, in history.” 

“There can be no room in the conservative movement for apologists to [Vladimir] Putin. There is only room in this movement for champions of freedom,” Pence said.

McCarthy and other incoming Republican leaders in Congress have an obligation to push back against extremism in their own ranks, however and wherever it presents itself, especially in the form of pro-Russian tendencies.  

If not, the fringe right will continue dragging the Republican Party further out of the political mainstream and will bring the free world down with it.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”

Tags Kevin McCarthy Marjorie Taylor Greene Mike Pence Politics of the United States Ronald Reagan Russo-Ukrainian War US aid to Ukraine US military aid to Ukraine Vladimir Putin

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