by DAVID HARSANYI
It’s not exactly a sign of a healthy democratic discourse that it’s virtually impossible to ask a critical question about the United States’ role in the Ukraine-Russia conflict without being smeared as a Putin apologist or an “isolationist.”
We’ve been bombarded with bromides about a civilizational struggle that pits the forces of autocracy and liberalism against each other. “It’s not just about freedom in Ukraine,” President Joe Biden tells us. “It’s about freedom of democracy at large.”
Yet Ukraine — which, before the war, regularly slotted in somewhere beneath Burma, Mexico and Hungary on those silly “democracy matrixes” left-wingers used to love — isn’t any kind of liberal democracy. Maybe one day it will be. Today Ukraine still shutters churches and restricts the free press. Maybe you believe those are justifiable actions during wartime, but under no definition are they liberal. Ukraine has never been a functioning “democracy.” Its people defend its borders and sovereignty in the face of a powerful expansionist aggressor. That’s good enough.
But a person is capable of rooting for Vladimir Putin to be embarrassed, beaten and weakened, without accepting the historical revisionism and a highly idealized version of Ukraine. A person is fully capable of rooting for Putin to be embarrassed, beaten and weakened, and also asking questions about where this is all headed.
Last week on “Fox and Friends,” probable presidential candidate Ron DeSantis answered a few queries about the war. Perhaps one day the governor will morph into the next Charles Lindbergh, but none of his answers were remotely “isolationist,” despite the claims of media. Unless, that is, anything short of automatic, lock stepping support for every foreign entanglement is considered “isolationist.”
DeSantis’ central criticism was that Ukraine has “a blank check policy with no clear strategic objective identified.” Is this contention even debatable? The administration has offered no identifiable endgame, other than “beating” Russia, which is fantastic. But what does that entail? Does it mean we keep sending weapons and billions of dollars until Russia is ejected from the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine or until Volodymyr Zelensky takes back Crimea, as well — which would surely escalate the war into a new bloody phase? Or does beating Russia happen when Zelensky finally rides a Jeep up to the Kremlin? That might take a while.
At The Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin (weirdly) accused DeSantis of pandering to “pro-Russian apologists” by dismissing the country as “a third-rate military power.” The Biden administration apparently agrees that Russian tanks aren’t going to be rolling into Paris or Berlin or Poland any time soon. Under Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl told Congress this week: “Ukraine is not going to lose. There will be no loss in Ukraine. I think Vladimir Putin hoped that that would happen. It hasn’t happened. It’s not going to happen.”
MSNBC’s Steve Benen didn’t like that DeSantis criticized his “own country’s president” — so much for dissent being patriotic — and that he suggested that “his own country deserves part of the blame for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” But that’s not what DeSantis suggested. He suggested Biden deserved part of the blame. And maybe he does.
History did not begin in 2015.