On Ukraine aid, Republicans should follow the leader
December’s surprise visit of President Volodymyr Zelensky to the United States — the first time he has left Ukraine since Russia’s invasion — should make the Russians shake in their boots.
As Ukrainians dig in for a long winter defending their lives and their country, the true solidarity between the United States and our ally — as Congress approved significant additional aid — has been demonstrated in ways that historians will write about for years to come.
Zelensky’s visit fully underscored why this additional security, economic and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine in the recent omnibus package that was signed into law is so essential, not just for Ukraine, but for our own national security and way of life.
Unfortunately, continued U.S. support for this allied democracy has wavered in some quarters of the Republican Party — making this new investment an important victory both in Congress and for Ukraine. The fact is that Zelensky’s visit and the victory of securing this additional assistance would not have been possible without the leadership of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
McConnell is one of the most important voices in Republican politics and he’s using it to shape U.S. foreign policy. At a foreign policy event earlier this month, McConnell laid out his forceful, conservative vision for the future of American leadership around the globe calling for the United States to prioritize both “courage and compassion” in U.S. foreign policy.
In the remarks, McConnell acknowledged that there are some prominent Republicans who believe our foreign policy should be solely focused on military spending. But McConnell dismissed this as a false choice. Repeating the messages of former Secretary of Defense Gen. Jim Mattis, McConnell said, “If Congress doesn’t want to fund smart diplomacy and foreign aid, we’d better get ready to spend the same money buying a whole lot more bullets later.”
McConnell reminded the audience that “Courage and compassion are not opposites … they are complements. And both in theory and in practice, a strong America requires them both.”
Just as America’s military strength can keep our nation safe, our economic strength can provide benefits in the form of increased economic growth and activity.
“History has proven over and over again that America does well when America does good. Here’s a shining example of it, 11 of our top 15 trading partners were once recipients of U.S. foreign assistance,” McConnell noted.
McConnell’s strong, conservative vision for embedding courage and compassion within U.S. foreign policy can and should reinvigorate our nation’s leadership across a range of critical international challenges.
In Ukraine, Putin’s attacks are aimed as much at the nation’s economy as its military. Sustained Russian missile strikes are slowly destroying Ukraine’s infrastructure, making it difficult for farmers and factories to operate. If Ukraine is to continue fighting, at a minimum it must feed itself. This is just one reason why aid from the United States and other Western nations is so important — as is ensuring our NATO partners are also doing all they can at this pivotal moment.
President Zelensky’s remarks in the joint session of Congress echoed the fact that Ukraine is not looking for a handout as they fight for their lives. As he told the world, “Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”
In the years ahead, the United States will be forced to confront a diverse set of international challenges beyond Ukraine. China’s authoritarian turn under President Xi Jinping is making that country’s policy stances more aggressive and threatening. Civil wars in Africa are leaving millions in need of assistance, while violence and corruption in Central America are fueling poverty and causing millions to flee their homes. History has demonstrated repeatedly that regional unrest helps to enrich and empower individuals and organizations who ultimately threaten our nation’s own security.
From the terrorist attacks of 9/11 to the global pandemic to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States has been subject to multiple reminders in the 21st century that what happens globally will have meaningful impacts on our country. A robust foreign policy is critical to saving lives and in turn creating allies.
It is encouraging to see conservative leaders in Congress — like McConnell — welcome Zelensky to the United States Capitol and support these investments as a clear signal of American strength and a critical component of our nation’s foreign policy moving forward.
Heather Nauert served at the U.S. Department of State as spokesperson from 2017 to 2019 and as acting undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs from 2018 to 2019. She previously spent nearly 20 years as an anchor and reporter at Fox News and ABC News.
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