Patten: Ukraine military aid is a good investment

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The concept of the aftermath of war. Illustration of the destruction after the war in Ukraine. Consequences of shelling by artillery shells and air strikes on a military base

During the midterm campaign period, then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy cast doubt on future spending in support of Ukraine’s defense. In doing so, he spoke to rank and file concerns about what some see as a misguided policy of the Biden administration. Tuesday’s MaineWire reported the White House is now considering another $37 billion of primarily military assistance to the war-torn, European nation. Is this, as the Russians say, money in the wind?

Now that McCarthy may become speaker, it’s worth addressing Republican doubts about our involvement with the Ukraine war effort. These derive not just from a bromance with Russia, as Democrats often suggest, and pre-date Donald Trump’s cozy embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin. With the exception of Ronald Reagan’s muscular challenge of the Soviet Union, Republicans have long heeded George Washington’s warning about foreign entanglements.

In 1919, Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge led the effort to torpedo Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations, a would-be precursor to the UN. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt needed Pearl Harbor to overcome hesitant isolationists in Congress – mostly Republican – and secure a war declaration against Japan. Post-war President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us to beware the military-industrial complex and, knowing a thing or two more about this than the average Joe, was right to say so.

Skepticism is healthy. Whether or not we still willingly bear the mantle of being the world’s most powerful democracy is also a question of some debate today. But taxpayer money spent on arming Ukraine is money well spent.

I need to be careful here, because I am a convicted unregistered foreign agent for a Ukrainian. But no Ukrainian is paying or instructing me to say this, these are personal observations based on a good deal of regional experience and a visit to Ukraine in the last year. For me it’s personal, but not necessarily – as it is for all the big-hearted Americans who slap Ukrainian flags on their windscreens – emotional.

The average research and development allotment of the Pentagon’s big annual budget is in the ballpark of $130 billion. That is a useful marker. Every weapon system we give, lend, or sell to the Ukrainians is relatively quickly deployed to the battlefield and put into use. When that happens, we can watch carefully and assess its performance in a way that our military rivals cannot.

In other words, a war to which we are not currently committing any combatants is an extraordinary opportunity for live fire exercise.

In addition, proxy wars may bring opportunities to showcase advanced U.S. weaponry in the same way the first Gulf War did the Patriot missile system. When our adversaries see what we have and what can be done with it, it tempers their aggression against us. Our long-standing support to Israel, whose capital the Patriot systems defended from Iraqi aggression, offers many of such examples.

But unlike Israel, Ukraine has serious problems with corruption and transparency. So the American taxpayer may reasonably ask how we can be sure our money isn’t simply enriching some Ukrainian oligarch, or being ciphoned off in shady arms transfers. Congress has a right to demand that the administration respond to this concern when it grants any additional funds.

Also, there are reasonable concerns that the Biden administration could be sleepwalking into a nuclear conflict. One look at the test-tube hatched National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is enough to amplify these concerns. Acknowledging these for what they are, it is useful to remember that the only thing that has kept us out of nuclear for the last 75 years is American strength. Shirking Russian aggression is inconsistent with that.

Congress needs to keep its eyes open. The outgoing Congress offered no meaningful checks to executive power over the last two years after hanging up its impeachment gowns and becoming a Hallelujah chorus. Let’s see some strong national security leaders emerge on the Republican side of the aisle, Lord knows we could use it. At the same time, let’s be sure we’re asking the right questions.

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