Year Two of the Ukraine War Is Going to Get Scary

But why is backing Ukraine in this war not only in our strategic interest but also in line with our values?

“Americans continually struggle to reconcile contradictory interpretations of their interests — one focused on security of the homeland and one focused on defense of the liberal world beyond America’s shores. The first conforms to Americans’ preference to be left alone and avoid the costs, responsibilities and moral burdens of exercising power abroad. The second reflects their anxieties as a liberal people about becoming what F.D.R. called a ‘lone island’ in a sea of militarist dictatorships. The oscillation between these two perspectives has produced the recurring whiplash in U.S. foreign policy over the past century.”

International relations theorists, Kagan added, “have taught us to view ‘interests’ and ‘values’ as distinct, with the idea that for all nations ‘interests’ — meaning material concerns like security and economic well-being — necessarily take primacy over values. But this is not, in fact, how nations behave. Russia after the Cold War has enjoyed greater security on its western border than at practically any time in its history, even with NATO’s expansion. Yet Putin has been willing to make Russia less secure to fulfill traditional Russian great power ambitions which have more to do with honor and identity than with security.” The same seems to be true with President Xi when it comes to recovering Taiwan.

It is interesting to note, though, that a growing number of Republicans, at least in the House and on Fox News, don’t buy this argument, while a Democratic president and his Senate do. What gives?

“American foreign policy debates are never just about foreign policy,” Kagan answered. “The ‘isolationists’ in the 1930s were overwhelmingly Republicans. Their greatest fear, or so they claimed, was that F.D.R. was leading the nation toward communism. In international affairs, therefore, they tended to be more sympathetic to the fascist powers than liberal Democrats. They thought well of Mussolini, opposed aiding the Spanish Republicans against the fascist, Nazi-backed Franco and regarded Hitler as a useful bulwark against the Soviet Union.

“So it’s not so surprising today that so many conservative Republicans have a soft spot for Putin, whom they see as a leader of the global anti-liberal crusade. Perhaps it is worth reminding Kevin McCarthy that the Republicans were destroyed politically by their opposition to World War II and were only able to resurrect themselves by electing an internationalist Dwight Eisenhower in 1952.”

There are also many voices on the left, though, who are legitimately asking: Is it really worth risking World War III to drive Russia all the way out of Eastern Ukraine? Haven’t we hurt Putin so badly by now that he won’t be trying something like Ukraine again soon? Time for a dirty deal?