July 13, 2024

As I type this, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is on Capitol Hill again, this time to try to secure another $23 billion. That would be on top of the already $113 billion that has been appropriated over the last year and a half. 

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Ukraine’s war of self-defense against Russia has largely turned into a stalemate. The spring counter-offensive that Zelensky was hoping would turn the tide hasn’t produced the desired results, and while Vladimir Putin is certainly not “winning” the war, he’s been able to garner a position where he could conceivably drag it out for many more years. 

That has some Republicans saying enough is enough. Rand Paul is one of them, and he pulled no punches when asked about the situation on Fox News. 

BARTIROMO: There’s also this incredible story about an American journalist, Gonzalo Lira. He’s reportedly, right now, in prison in Ukraine on allegations of spreading Russian propaganda. I don’t understand this, that Joe Biden could approve $113 billion of money to Ukraine, and yet he has not tried to get this American journalist out of prison there?

PAUL: It’s even worse than that Maria. They’ve canceled the elections. What kind of democracy has no election? So next year, Zelensky said he’s not going to have an election because it would be inconvenient during the war and it would be expensive. Well, the thing is, if you don’t have elections, why in the world are we supporting a country that’s not a democracy? 

They’ve banned the political parties, they’ve invaded churches, they’ve arrested priests. So no, it isn’t a democracy, it’s a corrupt regime. Are the Russians any better? No, the Russians are worse, but at the same time, we don’t always have to pick some side to be on, but the ultimate reason I’m against this is we don’t have the money and when we borrow more money it leads to more inflation, leads to more likelihood of recession in our country, and so we can’t keep doing it.

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Certainly, Paul’s words are going to be controversial, but the primary question to ask is simple: Is he wrong?

I don’t ask that to make an argument for Russia or against Ukraine’s right to self-defense. Certainly, I’ve been clear that I think Ukraine has the right to defend itself and its territory as long as it sees fit. That’s a moral statement, though, not a practical one. Whether Gonzalo Lira is a good person or not isn’t really relevant. A nation that arrests people for “spreading propaganda” is not a free state. People can pretend otherwise because of the dichotomy presented, but that’s just reality. 

The United States managed to have elections during its own Civil War, which had eaten up far more territory and taken far more lives. And sure, Zelensky and the Ukrainians have the ability to put in place whatever measures they see fit to win the war they are fighting. At the same time, Americans have the ability to look at those measures and say they are no longer going to blindly fund them. 

Past that, Paul is clearly right that we simply don’t have the money to keep doing this. Americans are being crushed by higher prices, and continuing to add to the national debt only exacerbates the situation. As I’ve said before, if funding Ukraine is such an excellent, effective use of military resources compared to regular military spending (and there’s an argument to make there), as many claim, then pay for it out of the regular defense budget. Continuing to have these massive separate appropriations is not sustainable. 

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Lastly, the biggest issue for Zelensky and the Biden administration is a refusal to articulate any realistic end game. Is the United States really going to fund this war until Crimea is retaken, as Zelensky has stated? Because Ukraine can’t even retake its eastern flank, which is far more geographically welcoming. It may never have the military ability necessary to retake Crimea, and what that means needs to be fleshed out. 

Paul is a hardliner on this, but even non-hardliners are growing skeptical. At this point, they are justified in their skepticism.

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