Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said this week that defending Ukraine against Russian invasion is not a vital interest of the United States, cementing a Republican retreat from the hawkish foreign policy that has played out over the past decade and Donald’s policies J. Trump has accelerated rising.
Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis — whose combined support accounts for more than 75 percent of Republican primary voters in the upcoming 2024 presidential campaign — are now largely aligned with Ukraine, signaling a sharp break with the interventionist approach that characterized former President George W. Bush’s invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Republican foreign-policy hawks balked at Mr. DeSantis’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” statement on Fox News Monday night, in which the governor departed from the position that most Republican entities on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said , held by minority leaders. Mr. McConnell and other senior Republicans in Congress have portrayed President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Russia as a struggle to defend the post-World War II international security framework.
“DeSantis is wrong and seems to have forgotten the lessons of Ronald Reagan,” said former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who led the House selection committee investigating Mr Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
“This is not a ‘territorial dispute,'” she said in a statement, echoing Mr. DeSantis’ phrasing. “The Ukrainian people are fighting for their freedom. Surrendering to Putin and refusing to defend freedom makes America less secure.”
She continued, “Weakness is provocative, and American officials who advocate that kind of weakness are Putin’s greatest weapon. Abandoning Ukraine would make broader conflicts, including with China and other American adversaries, more likely.”
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said in an interview Tuesday morning that he “couldn’t disagree more” with Mr. DeSanti’s characterization of the operations involved in defending Ukraine.
The state of war
- At the frontline: From Kupyansk to Bakhmut, Russian forces are attacking along a 160-mile arc in eastern Ukraine, intensifying their fight for tactical advantages ahead of potential spring offensives.
- Planning a political push: Recent statements by Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Mercenary Wagner group, suggest that he wants to ditch his reputation as a military leader and play a bigger role in Russian society.
- War Crimes Cases: The International Criminal Court intends to open two war crimes cases related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the cases, Russia is accused of kidnapping Ukrainian children and targeting civilian infrastructure.
- Ukrainian refugees in the USA: The Biden administration said thousands of Ukrainians who fled to the United States in the early months of the war were eligible to extend their stay.
“Neville Chamberlain’s approach to aggression never ends well,” Mr Graham said, comparing Mr DeSantis to the British Prime Minister placating Adolf Hitler. “This is an attempt by Putin to rewrite the map of Europe by force of arms.”
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also took a stand against Mr. DeSantis’ comments — a clear rebuke from the senior Republican in Mr. DeSantis’ home state.
“I don’t know what he’s trying to do or what the goal is,” Mr. Rubio, a former presidential candidate, told Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
And Senator John Cornyn of Texas told Politico he was “concerned” by Mr. DeSantis’ comments.
Mr. Trump has long been vocal about his views on foreign intervention and railed against the Iraq war in his 2016 campaign, but Mr. DeSantis had tried not to get bogged down in one of the key foreign policy issues facing the future Republican presidential field is faced.
His choice of words, with which he described the conflict as a “territorial dispute”, was telling. By referring in this way to Russia’s unprovoked invasion, he dismissed the argument that Putin’s aggression had threatened the post-war international order. Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Trump have firmly rejected the idea that the conflict is a war in defense of “freedom,” a position held by two of their potential rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, former Vice Presidents Mike Pence and Nikki Haley, the first ambassador to the United Nations.
Mr. DeSantis left some slack in his statement, which came in response to a questionnaire Mr. Carlson sent to all major potential Republican presidential candidates. The governor did not promise to halt all US aid to Ukraine — an omission noted by some hardline opponents of support for Ukraine, who have criticized Mr. DeSantis for leaving open the possibility that he could stem the flow of American aid would be maintained.
But by downplaying the stakes of the conflict the way he did, Mr. DeSantis angered many Republicans in the foreign policy establishment, who said he cornered himself. Even if he were to change his mind about Ukraine, how would a President DeSantis get the public and Congress to send billions of dollars and high-tech weaponry into a mere “territorial dispute” that is of no vital interest to America ?
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Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a potential presidential candidate for 2024, said the remarks were “a naïve and utter misunderstanding of the historical context of what is going on” and that authoritarians would fill the void if the U.S of global leadership would withdraw .
Charles Kupperman, who served as deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration under John R. Bolton, said Mr. DeSantis has shown “a very poor understanding of our national security interests,” adding, “I’m surprised he went that far.” so fast.”
It was unclear who, if anyone, helped Mr. DeSantis write the statement.
Ms. Haley, one of the Big Three Republicans who have announced a 2024 campaign, released her response to Mr. Carlson on Tuesday, saying an unequivocal “yes” on whether Russia is of vital interest to the US to stop
“America is much better off with a Ukrainian victory than a Russian victory, including avoiding a major war,” she said. “If Russia wins, there is no reason to think it will stop with Ukraine.”
Conservatives, who want the United States to shift its focus from Europe to fighting China, were enthralled by Mr. DeSantis’ statement.
“Americans desperately need a foreign policy that understands what is truly in their interests and that strategically and realistically pursues those interests in a dangerous world,” said Elbridge Colby, a former senior Defense Department official who recently spoke to Senate Republicans on China -Policy informed.
“This is clearly the approach that Governor DeSantis laid out in his response to Tucker Carlson,” added Mr. Colby. “He prioritized the biggest threats to America, like China and drugs pouring over the border, and rightly saw Ukraine as a distraction from those biggest challenges, while also dismissing the Wilsonian radicalism that has previously led us to disaster and which would be catastrophic if pursued today.”
And there is a sharp gulf between the opinion of the Republican elite and the views of party voters. While many senior Republicans were outraged by Mr. DeSantis’ statement, he and Mr. Trump stand closer to the average GOP voter than Republicans like Mr. McConnell, who are urging Mr. Biden to do more to support Ukraine.
A January poll by the Pew Research Center showed that 40 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning independent voters thought the US was too supportive of Ukraine. Only 17 percent thought the US was not doing enough.
Conservative interventionists had hoped that Mr. DeSantis would split from Mr. Trump on Ukraine policy. Mr. DeSantis scared them late last month when he hinted on Fox News that he wasn’t committed to defending Ukraine.
But Mr. DeSantis’ comments in that interview were brief and vague enough for these conservatives to hope he would end up on their side. They looked for positive signs and found solace in Mr. DeSantis’ record in Congress. In 2014 and 2015, after Mr Putin annexed Crimea from Ukraine, Mr DeSantis criticized President Barack Obama for not doing enough to support Ukraine. In Florida, DeSantis recently hosted historian William Inboden, author of a recent book on President Ronald Reagan’s efforts during the Cold War, for an exchange of views on foreign policy, according to two people familiar with the meeting.
dr Inboden and one employee did not respond to emails seeking comment. An associate of Mr. DeSantis did not respond to a request for comment.
Several hawks went into overdrive trying to influence Mr. DeSantis. Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley A. Strassel urged him not to attend what she called Mr. Trump’s “GOP handover caucus.”
“The governor has an opportunity to compare a bold, well-considered foreign policy to Mr. Trump’s opaque back-to-back behavior,” Ms. Strassel wrote.
But pro-Ukrainian Republicans who have been closely watching Mr. DeSantis had more reason to be alarmed. They were unsettled by his ties to the Claremont Institute, an influential conservative think tank that holds foreign policy views broadly aligned with Mr Trump’s. As of Monday night, only the most optimistic interventionists could have hoped that Mr. DeSantis would end up on their side.