The Western response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been formidable. The U.S. alone has committed more than $100 billion in aid to Ukraine, which not only managed to push back the initial Russian advances, but has also given Moscow a tremendous beating, with upwards of 200,000 Russian soldiers killed or wounded.
Ukrainian forces have paid a tremendous price for the war too, taking more than half as many casualties. The war is now locked in a stalemate as Russia and Ukraine expend firepower and manpower at rates many observers view as unsustainable.
And now, as Ukraine plans a potential spring offensive to break the stalemate, criticism of the West’s effort to support Ukraine is getting louder in the United States. It could potentially shape the outcome of the war.
The Bipartisan Consensus on Ukraine is Fraying
Republican support for the Ukraine war has steeply declined since the fall. Close to a majority of Republicans now believe the U.S. is providing too much support to Ukraine — a reversal from the early months of the war when the vast majority of Republicans favored increasing assistance to the country.
The Ukraine war’s chief opponent is Donald Trump. The former president is trying to position himself as the lone anti-war candidate in the 2024 elections up against “globalists” intent on fomenting “World War III.” Their worldview, Trump says, reflects an “America Last” perspective.
Far-right Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene has echoed Trump’s sentiments. She also cynically portrays Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a grifter “who wants our sons and daughters to die in Ukraine.” Biden, she says, “chose Ukraine over America, while forcing the American people to pay for Ukraine’s government and war.”
Fox News host Tucker Carlson has propagated such views too, using his massive bully pulpit on weeknights to rail against Zelensky.
Trump’s anti-war posture has forced Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to begin to pivot against support for Ukraine. In a statement aired on Carlson’s show on Monday night, DeSantis said that protecting Ukraine “is not a key U.S. interest.” He also recently referred to the conflict as a “proxy war.”
Trump, Greene, DeSantis, and others argue that money being spent on Ukraine is money not spent on securing America’s southern border, a conduit for the trafficking of people and drugs. This is a worldview that marries isolationism with a definition of national security that is more strictly tied to U.S. territory, leveraging growing concern over immigration. The message here is: America should police its borders, not be the world’s policeman.
A Push Toward a Negotiated Settlement?
The Republican Party leadership still supports funding Ukraine’s war effort. But the Republican base, which for decades has been more pro-war than the Democrats, is beginning to turn against the Ukraine war in ways that are consequential for Kyiv.
A majority of Republicans favor supporting Ukraine till it reclaims territory, but a growing number — 41 percent — say they favor a quick settlement that results in territorial compromises by Kyiv. That percentage is likely to grow as Republican candidates and the right-wing media rail against Zelensky and his government.
At this critical juncture for Ukrainians, policy elites in Washington are bungling their messaging to ordinary Americans.
Take, for example, Luke Coffey of the center-right Hudson Institute, who describes the tens of billions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Ukraine as just “25 cents per day per American.” That’s a failed pitch as Americans are being hit by inflation, cuts to healthcare and education spending are being proposed in the ongoing debt ceiling talks, and concerns over Ukraine corruption rise to the surface again. Whenever the war ends, reconstruction costs could exceed $1 trillion. The U.S. will be spending a lot of money on Ukraine for a while.
There will be growing discussion of the tradeoffs of spending on Ukraine versus social spending on Americans, protecting the borders, or defending against a rising China. Expect pressure for a negotiated settlement to the war to also rise, especially if Ukraine’s planned spring offensive never materializes or yields no breakthroughs.