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National Review
National Review
17 Feb 2024
Matthew Continetti


NextImg:Let Them Vote

On February 13, the Senate passed a $95 billion aid package for weapons to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan. The vote was 70 to 29. Action now moves to the House — which is out of session. And where the bill looks dead on arrival.

Why? Not because aid to Israel and Ukraine is unnecessary. Not because aid is unpopular. And not because Republicans are united against sending weapons to Ukraine.

The obstacle isn’t substantive. It’s personal. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R., La.) won’t bring the Senate bill to the floor. But he can correct his mistake. And if he chooses not to, then members of both parties should support a discharge petition that would allow the pro-Israel, pro-Ukraine majority to speak.

Johnson says he opposes the national-security supplemental because it fails to address the crisis on the southern border. Yet Johnson also opposed an earlier version of the supplemental that did change immigration law. And Johnson has stated, correctly, that President Biden has the power to address the border crisis on his own.

To fix the border, you need a new president — and some (not all) of the authorities contained in the legislation that the GOP rejected. To pass appropriations that bolster American defenses and enhance American security, you need Congress.

And Congress should step up. The world is a dangerous place. America’s allies face existential threats. Vladimir Putin intends to absorb Ukraine into his resurgent Russian empire. Iran’s theocrats seek to destroy the Jewish state by proxy wars and nuclear arms. Xi Jinping wants Beijing to rule Taipei. We owe it to our friends — and to the generations of Americans who sacrificed for peace — to do what we can to deter aggressors.

The critics argue that ending aid will bring the Ukraine war to a close. Not so. Russia will continue to fight. Ukrainians will resist. Even if the combatants agreed to a cease-fire along the current lines of control, Putin would resume the invasion at his convenience. He’s done it before. And he has targets beyond Ukraine. At this moment, Russia is probing Finland and Estonia — NATO members both.

Putin feeds off weakness. Off irresolution. Which is what he sees in America right now. What better way to contradict him than by helping Ukraine pummel his war machine?

Opponents of Ukraine aid say that we are repeating the mistakes of the 2003 Iraq war. The two situations could not be more different. American troops fought in Iraq. There are no American troops in Ukraine. The Iraq war split NATO. The Ukraine war has unified and expanded the alliance. Having shattered Saddam Hussein’s regime, America became responsible for the aftermath. Ukraine is a democracy that aspires to membership in Europe and the West. The Ukrainians want to build their own nation. All they require are the means of survival. Means we can supply.

Providing weapons to allies is well within the tradition of post-war American foreign policy. Harry Truman in 1947: “It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” Richard Nixon in 1969: “We shall furnish military and economic assistance when requested in accordance with our treaty commitments. But we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility of providing the manpower for its defense.” Ronald Reagan in 1985: “We must stand by all our democratic allies. And we must not break faith with those who are risking their lives — on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua — to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth.”

This is America’s heritage. This is America’s legacy of leadership on behalf of freedom.

Yes, the Soviet Union is no more. The first Cold War is over. But look at your newsfeed — a second Cold War has begun. And Russia is still Russia. Détente with Putin under current conditions is a fantasy. Détente might have been possible two decades ago: Putin was fresh on the job, Russia was chaotic, and China was dedicated to a “peaceful rise.” None of that is true any longer. Détente is not an option today.

Opponents of aid to Ukraine say that resources are scarce. That America’s focus should be on China. Yet the national-security bill is a down payment on recapitalizing America’s defense-industrial base. As Fox News Channel correspondent Jennifer Griffin reports, the legislation includes billions of dollars for restocking weapons supplies and backfilling inventories. Passing it would demonstrate that America is serious about rearmament. And it would signal to Taiwan, Korea, and Japan — all supporters of Ukraine — that America is not retreating from leadership out of exhaustion, boredom, irritation, or spite. You don’t think China would notice?

On one level it is ironic that opponents of aid to Ukraine — aid that primarily flows to American companies and supports American jobs — are often the same individuals who call for the reindustrialization of America and the revival of American manufacturing. Ironic, too, that these self-described “populists” are standing in the way of majority rule, are standing against public opinion.

Still, on another level, nothing about this debate is ironic. It is deadly serious. A minority of lawmakers are exploiting their leverage in a historically narrow House majority to paralyze the Congress, abandon our allies, and embolden our adversaries. Americans deserve better. They deserve a voice.

Speaker Johnson can do the right thing. He can allow the House of Representatives to work its will by holding a vote on the Senate bill. Let congressmen propose amendments. Let debate commence. Let the supermajority be heard. Let the people rule.

This column originally ran in the Washington Free Beacon.