Rand Paul Is Right on Ukraine
Asking for accountability in spending American money is hardly the same as siding with Putin.
In an article at Defense Opinion titled “Sen. Paul is Wrong on Ukraine,” the authors Jeff Ankley and John Fairlamb make a number of serious errors.
The authors start by criticizing Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky for opposing a massive omnibus spending bill that included additional funding for Ukraine. Paul’s stance is not unfounded— there is no reason to allow important issues that deserve serious review, discussion, and debate to simply be crammed into a colossal omnibus spending bill with the express purpose of avoiding any serious scrutiny.
Repeatedly, Congress has asked the Biden Administration to outline a coherent policy strategy for Ukraine. But they have steadfastly refused and simply keep committing to spending large sums of American taxpayer dollars apparently in perpetuity.
Ukraine’s GDP in 2019, the year before the pandemic began, was $153 billion dollars. The year before that, it was $130 billion. And the year before that, it was $112 billion. Congress has passed four Ukraine spending packages totaling $130 billion—which is to say, what is historically about a year’s worth of Ukrainian GDP.
A great deal of this aid is not even aimed at helping Ukraine defend itself from Russian aggression; for example, we’ve been funding the Ukrainian pension system. Even granting the premise that we should be funding Ukraine’s self-defense, it is far from clear how the national pension system figures into that.
Ankley and Fairlamb argue that Putin’s ambitions won’t stop at Ukraine, so we must spend hundreds of billions of dollars to stop him. The authors overlook the fact that Putin was predicted to defeat Ukraine in a matter of days. As it happened, he couldn’t conquer central and western Ukraine, and is in a stalemate in Ukraine’s southern and eastern portions. The thought that Russia will be able to take and maintain control over all of Ukraine is far from certain. If Putin invaded the Baltic Republics, Finland, or Poland, all of NATO, much less the U.S., would not be needed to defeat such an incursion.
Russia has proven that it is not a great economic or military power—while, of course, it is still a nuclear power. It is estimated that the Russian Federation has nearly 6,000 nuclear weapons. The policy that should be maintained from the Cold War is to ensure these weapons are never used. Writing the new nuclear playbook for the 21st century will require diplomacy with all nuclear-state actors, but especially Russia and China. Awareness of this does not signal a desire to return Russia to greatness or to “turn” on our treaty allies.
Ankley and Fairlamb state that the U.S. should help defend Europe because this region is vital to U.S. economic and political interests. There is certainly an American interest in having a balanced security space in Europe. Nevertheless, the U.S. armed forces don’t have to be permanently garrisoned in Europe for that to happen. The U.S. should always support its allies, but for most of Europe’s security threats, the U.S. should stand as the option of last resort instead of doing most of the heavy lifting for the European states. This posture would push Europe to carry its weight, allow the U.S. military to free up resources and manpower to focus more on the broader U.S. national security threats, and allow the United States better to maintain long-term political support towards Europe and other allies.
The authors also argue that if China’s President Xi Jinping witnesses a failure of the West to prevent a Russian land grab, he will be further emboldened to invade Taiwan. But China isn’t Russia, and Taiwan isn’t Ukraine. The botched and horrifically executed withdrawal from Afghanistan did far more to embolden Russia and China than anything the U.S. could do by tempering its no-limits approach to Ukraine aid.
This argument also neglects important differences between the foreign policies of Russia and China. Putin has a history of sending his military abroad to engage in long-term and long-range wars—for example, those in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria. While China has shown a greater interest in flexing its military muscle in recent years, it has not shown the same interest in prolonged wars abroad. Xi seems more interested—at least so far—in cultivating the image of a statesman on the international stage.
Further, if we bleed our military dry over Ukraine, or bust our federal budget and send our nation into financial and economic decline over Ukraine, we will be much less capable of deterring China’s designs on Taiwan.
Despite these considerations, opposition to a never-ending stream of American tax dollars flowing to Ukraine is characterized as supporting Putin or rooting for Russia in the conflict in Ukraine.
This is simplistic thinking. Paul understands that Putin is an international bad actor. If all we were doing was providing military aid tightly focused on helping Ukraine defend themselves against Russian aggression, he would be much more likely to support it. Yet we’ve been sending Ukraine money far out of proportion to the support that would be required to repel the invasion with no way of knowing how the money is being used. Simply sending ever more money without focusing it on actually helping Ukraine defend itself is not a serious strategy or a serious policy; if anything, it will continue to prolong the war.
Depleting our own military stocks and sending our economy into long-term stagnation does nothing to deter Russia or China or Iran or any other evildoer on the world stage, particularly if it is done by continuing to borrow money from China. Peace through strength requires us to be strong.
Paul is not anti-Ukraine or pro-Russia. He is simply pro-America, pro–American strength, and pro–American taxpayer. A strong America is a far more effective deterrent to the world’s evildoers than a weakened America.
The authors incorrectly claimed that Paul’s concern that we are giving Ukraine such large amounts of cash with little accountability is misguided. They say that the money is being given to vetted organizations and companies. But we know that at least some of the weapons sent to Ukraine have ended up elsewhere in the world, and cash is even easier to move than materiel.
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Moreover, the authors argue that worrying about corruption in Ukraine is silly because there are other countries that are as corrupt or perhaps even more corrupt than Ukraine. Yet that hardly has any bearing on Ukraine’s own corruption problems.
The authors falsely claimed that Paul has argued that America has no interest in Ukraine and that it is solely a European issue. That is a gross oversimplification of Paul’s position. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is certainly a big issue for Europe; Paul realizes this and wonders why Americans are expected to care more about the invasion than the rest of Europe appears to care. Why is it necessary for America to pay for the Ukrainian pension system while Europe struggles to provide materiel or military funding?
Paul isn’t hoping for a Putin win. He is merely unwilling to allow the fact that Putin is on one side of a dispute to cause America to suspend the need for us to make rational and logical decisions on how we spend taxpayer money. There may well be things that we can and should do to assist Ukraine to repel the Russian invasion, but we shouldn’t allow the financial burden to be placed primarily upon the American taxpayer. And, we shouldn’t suspend the idea that whatever aid we agree to provide must be spent carefully and judiciously within a thoughtful strategy.