Kevin McCarthy, leader of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives—and possibly the future Speaker of the House—recently remarked that a potential Republican majority will not give Ukraine a “blank check” for its defense against Russia. It’s not entirely clear what this means, but there are many Republicans in and out of Congress who have expressed reservations about the U.S. aiding Ukraine. Reducing or limiting American support for Ukraine, however, would be a serious mistake.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, isolationist conservatives like Tucker Carlson have questioned whether the United States should be wasting money on a foreign war. They and others, such as Tulsi Gabbard, a former member of Congress who recently left the Democratic Party, warn that present U.S. policy may lead to nuclear war with Russia. While McCarthy’s statement seems to support their position, it would be a strategic and political mistake.
Most of those opposing the war are in favor of the U.S. pressuring Ukraine—and to some degree Russia—to reach a negotiated settlement. This would reduce America’s war expenditures, and diminish the chances of escalating to a nuclear confrontation between Russia and the United States. Saving money is an understandable goal, though a nuclear clash is a highly unlikely event and should not receive much weight. The consequences for Russia, even if it uses smaller tactical nuclear weapons, would be dire, including radiation blowbacks into Russia itself and global condemnation.
The arguments against increased or even continued U.S. support of Ukraine have some weight, but fail to take account of how difficult it would be at this point to get Ukraine to stop defending its territory. In addition, even a modest Ukrainian victory would increase the likelihood of future peace between Russia and the United States.
There are many nations around the world that are watching carefully the performance of the Russian army. The consensus is that it is a far weaker fighting force than anyone anticipated, and its weapons systems—now that they are being tested in war—are out of date, poorly designed, and no match for Western arms. Russia’s ability to bring nations like India, Syria, or Iran to its side in the future will be greatly diminished if it cannot demonstrate that it has both a strong military and a strong arms production capacity. Thus far, in Ukraine, it is failing to show either.
One of the leaders watching this war very closely is China’s Xi Jinping, who is likely assessing the quality of Russia as a partner or ally. If Moscow is forced out of Ukraine in defeat, Xi is likely to avoid any kind of close alliance with Russia. The Chinese have long been interested in occupying some of the land held by Russia in Asia, but up to now have been reticent to assert their interests. To avoid another conflict, a Russia weakened by a war in Ukraine might have to make a land deal with China.
A Russian humiliation in Ukraine would weaken the Kremlin at home as well, almost certainly placing Putin’s position in jeopardy. The need to call up reserves for the war has greatly angered many Russians, who were led to believe that this “special military operation” would not result in significant casualties. Russia has suffered more than 70,000 casualties in Ukraine, and as Russian families bury their dead, there is a possibility that the Russian people will rise up against Putin, drive him from power, and force a change in the Russian government.
Finally, there is no way that Ukraine, after all the war crimes and atrocities committed by Russian soldiers on its territory, would sit down to settlement talks with Russia. No self-respecting country that has suffered this kind of treatment would be willing to discuss anything until it has driven all invading troops out of its territory—including, in this case, Crimea.
The opportunity to eliminate an adversary and significantly reduce the chances of war with Russia in the future is far too important for the United States to ignore by limiting its future support for Ukraine.
Peter J. Wallison is a senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute. He was White House Counsel and General Counsel of the US Department of the Treasury in the Reagan administration.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.