It’s possible that Congress can’t find a way, despite the support of bipartisan majorities, to continue funding Ukraine in its fight against Vladimir Putin’s Russia. This would have to rank, not necessarily as the worst, but perhaps the stupidest, most senseless abandonment of a U.S. ally ever.
We’ve pulled the rug out from under allied countries desperately fighting to save themselves from communist gulags and killing fields (Indochina), thrown away hard-won military gains (Iraq), deserted vulnerable translators and other allies on the ground (Afghanistan), but these betrayals came after long, costly conflicts. Ukraine hasn’t been long or, by any reasonable standard, particularly costly.
The roughly $100 billion we’ve spent so far is a fraction of the defense budget and, one would think, the kind of money we’re willing to spend to check a hostile power’s revanchist designs in Europe. To dump Ukraine now would be completely gratuitous.
Congress kneecapped our allies in Indochina by cutting off all military operations in 1973. This made for a dishonorable and disastrous end to the war, but it had been a long time coming. We were in Vietnam for roughly a dozen years. We suffered more than 58,000 fatalities, and the war cost about $170 billion, or something like $1 trillion in today’s terms. It deranged our politics and led to protests in the streets, creating a constant sense of crisis.
There is no crisis over Ukraine funding, besides support for it sagging somewhat.
President Barack Obama paved the way for the rise of ISIS when he pulled forces out of Iraq in 2011 after we had imposed a semblance of order at great cost in blood and treasure. But we’d been in Iraq since 2003. A lightning-fast victory transformed into a grinding war of counterinsurgency. We lost 4,400 men and women.
Not one U.S. service member has died in Ukraine.
President Joe Biden pulled out of Afghanistan in 2021, a decision that nearly instantly handed the country over to the Taliban. We’d been in the country for 20 years, though, without an end in sight and without being able to set up a self-sustaining Afghan government or military.
The current iteration of the Ukraine conflict has been going on since February 2022.
In Ukraine, we have a committed and capable ally that is fighting hard without the direct assistance of U.S. troops. It is battling an unambiguous enemy of the West. Russia’s military has been significantly degraded by Ukraine’s resistance. The support we are giving Kyiv is taxing our supplies of weapons, yes, but it is also being used to catalyze a long overdue revitalization of the U.S. defense industrial base.
This doesn’t add up to a picture that demands the immediate cessation of U.S. aid. Americans are impatient; still, we have to have more staying power than a little less than two years.
The critics say there’s no plan for victory. It’s true that Ukraine is unlikely ever to vanquish the Russian threat once and for all, and the best that can probably be hoped for is an eventual armistice. But sometimes geopolitics doesn’t offer neat, easy solutions. Does Israel have a plan for total victory against Islamic extremism? Does South Korea have a plan to finally defeat North Korea?
That the answer is “no” doesn’t make these allies less worthy of support. The same is true of Ukraine. To cut it off now wouldn’t be a crime, but an incredibly self-defeating blunder.
Rich Lowry is on X @RichLowry.