New York Post

Kudos to Speaker Johnson: Moving Ukraine Aid Is Critical to National Security

Dan Kochis
Dan Kochis
Senior Fellow, Center on Europe and Eurasia
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson makes remarks during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony to honor World War II veterans in Emancipation Hall on Thursday, March 21, 2024. (Tom Williams via Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson makes remarks during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony to honor World War II veterans in Emancipation Hall on Thursday, March 21, 2024. (Tom Williams via Getty Images)

Speaker Mike Johnson’s Easter announcement that he’ll bring a new Ukraine aid package to a vote when the House returns next week, despite the political risk to his speakership, is welcome news. Congressional backing for Ukraine assistance has been mired in the political muck for months. More than 5,000 miles away on the front lines, the maddening impasse has needlessly cost Ukrainian lives and territory. Three-quarters of Americans recognize that the Russian war against Ukraine and the conflicts that allies Israel and Taiwan face are important to US national interests. It’s time Congress got on the same page as its constituents and found a way to move critical support over the finish line. For Ukraine, the dearth of new aid has left soldiers to ration ammunition.

Russia’s artillery advantage has consequently increased by an order of magnitude. Moscow has been firing five times the number of shells per day as Kyiv for most of the year. Ukraine’s February decision to withdraw from Avdiivka was dictated by the lopsided daily firing rate. Russian forces simply out-pummeled Ukraine’s defenders.

Some good news came two weeks ago: The Czech Republic has stepped into the breach in a major way, scouring the world to secure 800,000 artillery shells. The first batch could reach Ukraine early this month, a lifeline that will allow defending forces to start shooting more rounds, secure in the knowledge that replacements are on the way. But while the Czech Republic’s role as intermediary in finding, purchasing, and securing permissions for the export of critical stocks of munitions is phenomenal, it won’t fill the void left by a lack of American assistance and leadership.

Some congressional conservatives hoped to force the Biden administration to stop the ongoing migrant crisis by linking aid to border security. But both sides remain entrenched, so aid efforts have withered on the vine. It’s in America’s interest to continue to aid our friends, most especially those defending their families and homes in Ukraine. Inaction not only harms US national interests; it’s expressly not what the American people have told policymakers they desire. Multiple recent polls have found a majority of Americans continue to back aid to Ukraine, both economic and military.

Behind closed doors, most congressional members recognize the importance of continuing assistance. But some lawmakers remain trapped in the vortex of misinformation surrounding the issue. The decline in conservative support for Ukraine aid is an elite-driven phenomenon. A vocal minority within the media and political class repeatedly regurgitate false and disproven notions that supporting Ukraine is akin to throwing taxpayer dollars away or risks pulling America into a hot war with Russia. The results speak for themselves.

In March 2022, Republicans and Democrats in nearly equal measure supported sending Ukraine weapons and military aid; now there’s a 30-point gap. From a military point of view, Ukraine is far better off today than it was two years ago and Russia far worse. And though from a moral perspective the war remains starkly black and white, support among conservative Americans has declined. This results from a failure to counter the strong but wrong views of a small segment of elites souring public opinion on staying the course. The administration allowing the war to fester by continuing to balk at sending Ukraine the systems it needs to win hasn’t helped.

This elite (and false) message that Ukraine is a lost cause and a waste of taxpayer money has proven so compelling in no small measure thanks to the echo of US engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Team Biden’s shockingly shortsighted and incompetent Afghanistan withdrawal is still fresh in the minds of many Americans, and they do not want a repeat. But failing to robustly stand with Ukraine and decisively defeat Russia makes this specter more likely to happen. The outcome of Russia’s genocidal campaign there will have far broader implications for America’s future security than either Afghanistan or Iraq.

There is, however, room for optimism. Unlike in Afghanistan or Iraq, America is not a combatant in Ukraine, but we do benefit from its success. Despite some recent territorial setbacks, Ukraine can defeat Russia and its backers in Beijing, Pyongyang and Tehran — if it has its allies’ consistent, stout backing. The situation on the front lines — and in the minds of Americans — is far from irretrievable, but it starts with Congress finding the will to do what is in the long-term American interest: Send Russian President Vladimir Putin a clear bipartisan message that the United States will stand by Ukraine for the long haul. 

Conservative lawmakers certainly have a duty to engage the administration on the migrant crisis, an issue of key importance to the public, but they should do so separately, recognizing Ukraine’s national security importance. Linking aid to migration is a disservice to the American people. Support for Ukraine is not a worthless donation but a down payment on a more secure and prosperous future.

The American people know this; Congress should prove it does too.

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