Putin can win in Ukraine only if Hawley-esque isolationists multiply
In autumn 1941, a few German units in
Hitler’s drive toward Moscow reached the city’s outer suburbs, close enough to see the Kremlin’s spires. Then
Soviet forces counterattacked against a German army that lacked winter clothing because the high command had promised that the Soviet Union would fall before snow did.
A year ago, Vladimir Putin launched what he believed would be a quick dash to Kyiv. A few army units briefly touched the city’s suburbs.
Russia’s estimated 60,000 military deaths so far are more than U.S. deaths in eight years in Vietnam, and four times what the Soviet Union lost in a decade in Afghanistan. The “Putin exodus,” which began well before the invasion and is accelerating, has cost Russia hundreds of thousands of mobile, educated young civilians. Strategy scholar Eliot A. Cohen writes in the Atlantic that elements of Putin’s army “have to be kept at the front by the fear of blocking units that will gun down soldiers fleeing the battlefield.” Putin’s gangster regime has scrounged for cannon fodder in Russia’s prisons, finding criminals to wage a war conducted as a war crime.
Hence the pertinence of Nuremberg, where in 1946 the first of the charges against some Nazi defendants was of aggression, which the tribunal called “the supreme international crime” because “it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” Other charges included war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. These categories are capacious enough to include Putin’s indiscriminate rocket and artillery attacks on civilian concentrations and infrastructure, and the rapes and tortures inflicted by his rabble soldiery.
Wartime atrocity charges often merit skepticism. When, however, Ukraine says Russians are scattering booby-trapped — explosive — toys to maim children, who then require caregivers, remember that Soviet forces did this in Afghanistan. And Putin’s abduction to “re-education camps” in Russia of unknown thousands of Ukrainian children is an attempt at cultural erasure akin to what his Chinese soulmates are doing to the Uyghurs, which U.S. policy has branded genocide. Putin is refuting his war rationale that Ukrainians are culturally Russians.
Putin can win only by Ukraine’s allies choosing to lose by not maximizing their moral and material advantages. He is counting on Western publics’ support for Ukraine being brittle, and especially on the multiplication of Josh Hawleys.
This freshman Republican senator and probable presidential aspirant exhorted the Jan. 6 mob moments before he did what it demanded, trying to block some states’ electoral votes. Now, continuing his pandering to the most primitive portion of the GOP base, this Missouri Metternich is opposing what no one is proposing — giving Ukraine a “blank check.” He evidently has not noticed the excruciating incrementalism of NATO allies’ aid to that valorous nation. Perhaps Hawley, advocate of nanny government “conservatism,” has been too busy promoting his plan to make the federal government not Big Brother but Big Parent, taking over parenting with a law against children under age 16 using social media.
Hawley, a caricature of a (rhetorically) anti-washington demagogue, is a human windsock, responsive to gusts of public opinion. An Associated Press poll shows that public support for aiding Ukraine militarily has declined from 60% last May to 48% today, and to 39% among Republicans. So, Hawley says the U.S. policy of supporting Ukraine’s survival “has to stop.”
The invincibly ignorant Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-fla.) has 10 cosponsors, all Republicans, for a resolution calling for an end to aid for Ukraine. Their geopolitical thinking probably is of Tucker (“Has Putin ever called me a racist?”) Carlson sophistication. They might eventually join hands across the barricades with some progressives who begrudge every federal nickel not devoted to feeding government-dependent Democratic factions. But Putin’s congressional caucus will remain a mostly Republican rump.
Putin will be disappointed by the caucus’s anemia. Few Republican legislators would be comfortable in the company of the likes of Hawley and Gaetz. And as Senate Republican Leader Mitch Mcconnell said last week, “Don’t look at Twitter, look at people in power. . . . Look at the top Republicans on the Senate and House committees that handle armed services, foreign affairs, appropriations, and intelligence.” They support Ukraine.
In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower ran for president primarily to protect the Republican Party and the Republic from Robert A. Taft, who had been wrong about prewar preparedness and about postwar collective security.
Taft was a formidable intellect and legislator whose views resonated with the many Americans who were isolationists before the war and nostalgic for isolationism’s comforts afterward. He sought the presidency three times (1940, 1948, 1952), winning it as often as Hawley will.