The Record (Troy, NY)
What DeSantis got wrong on Ukraine
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is a professed admirer of Ronald Reagan, and is launching his national book tour with a speech at the Reagan presidential library next month. That’s good because not since the 1980s has the world needed Reaganite leadership more.
Here at home, President Biden’s disastrous policies have unleashed the worst inflation in four decades, while abroad an expansionist Russia has invaded one of its neighbors — and a “no limits” partnership between Moscow and Beijing threatens the peace and stability of the free world. Many hope DeSantis will be the leader who can pull the country out of its malaise and make it “Morning in America” again. Which is why the governor’s “Fox & Friends” interview on Monday on Ukraine was so disappointing. DeSantis’s first foray into foreign policy as a potential 2024 standard-bearer was less than fully Reaganesque.
Let’s start with what he got right. DeSantis said: “I don’t think any of this would have happened , but for the weakness that the president showed during his first year in office, culminating, of course, in the disastrous withdrawal in Afghanistan.” His critique of the reason Vladimir Putin invaded is spot-on: After Biden’s unconditional surrender to the Taliban in 2021, the Russian tyrant decided he could get away with seizing Ukraine on the watch of a weak U.S. president.
DeSantis went on: “I think it would behoove them to identify what is the strategic objective that they’re trying to achieve, but just saying it’s an open-ended blank check, that is not acceptable.” DeSantis is right that Biden has not identified a “strategic objective” in Ukraine. The president has said that the United States will support Ukraine for “as long as it takes.” While that might sound resolute, things are actually taking much longer than necessary because Biden is fecklessly slow-rolling military aid to Ukraine.
Biden waited more than nine months to give Ukraine just one Patriot air-defense system, allowing Putin to shell 214 schools and 683 hospitals and clinics, by CBS News’s count, causing untold civilian deaths. Kyiv had to beg for months for advanced artillery, tanks and armored vehicles. And Biden still refuses to give the Ukrainians the longer-range missiles and F-16 fighters they need to push Russia out of the territory it has unlawfully seized. This refusal is a recipe not for victory but for a protracted stalemate.
It is one thing if by his blankcheck statement DeSantis means that the United States needs a clear strategy to bring the war to a successful conclusion. But it is something else if he is saying that the time has come to pull the plug on further aid, as some on the neo-isolationist right advocate.
When asked about Biden’s surprise visit to Kyiv, DeSantis had an un-Reaganesque response: “While he’s over there, I think I and many Americans are thinking to ourselves: Okay, he’s very concerned about those borders halfway around the world. He’s not done anything to secure our own border here at home. We’ve had millions and millions of people pour in, tens of thousands of Americans dead because of fentanyl, and then, of course, we just suffered a national humiliation of having China fly a spy balloon clear across the continental United States.”
DeSantis is right that Biden’s failure to secure our southern border is a disgrace, as was his weak response to China’s brazen incursion into U.S. airspace. But it does not follow from Biden’s failure to secure our border and skies that we should not support the Ukrainian people in their courageous fight for freedom. We need a president with the focus and energy to do both.
DeSantis declared: “These things can escalate, and I don’t think it’s in our interests to be getting into a proxy war with China, getting involved over things like the borderlands or over Crimea.” Actually, the real escalation risk comes not from helping Ukraine defend its borders but from a failure to do so.
Too many so-called conservatives today are emulating the Democrats of Reagan’s time — embracing defense cuts, opposing aid to freedom fighters, and wringing their hands that standing up for liberty could provoke our enemies and unleash World War III. We need a leader who will embrace the Reagan Doctrine, restore Reagan’s policies of peace through strength, and make clear that this new cold war will end the way the last one did: “We win, they lose.”
Is Ron DeSantis that leader? He’ll have another chance to tell us on March 5 at the Reagan library.