The Conservative "Hate America First" Crowd
The U.S. and NATO are helping Ukraine prepare for an expected chemical weapons attack from Russia. According to the newest YouGov poll (this week), 72% of registered voters approve of sanctions against Russia (including 67% of Republicans) and 81% approve of more sanctions against Russia (including 80% of Republicans). 49% of voters think the U.S. response to Russia should be tougher and 11% think it should be less tough. Among Republicans 58% think it should be tougher and just 9% say less tough. 65% of voters (and 66% of Republicans) favor sending weapons to Ukraine. Just 17% (and 13% of Republicans say that's a bad idea). Just 11% of registered voters (same percentage as Republicans) have a favorable view of Putin, while 69% of voters and 67% of Republicans have a favorable view of Zelenskyy.
That all said, this afternoon, Henry Olsen wrote that conservatives are critical of U.S. support for Ukraine and have no coherent alternative approach at all, just an ugly "Blame America" perspective. He focused on Kentucky crackpots Thomas Massie and Randy Paul and Ohio GOP Senate candidate J.D. Vance.
Speakers at a right-wing anti-USA forum-- featuring the 3 politicians-- "took pains to blame Vladimir Putin for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but they also criticized NATO’s expansion eastward and the foreign policy elite’s support for Ukraine’s membership in the European Union as unnecessarily provocative. Massie," wrote Olsen, "was the most explicit in ascribing blame to NATO, arguing that the alliance should have been dissolved after the Cold War, that it shouldn’t have expanded into former Soviet and Warsaw Pact nations, and that he would vote to have the United States leave NATO if he could. The fact that NATO in 1997 effectively forswore permanently stationing troops in any of those newly admitted countries was never mentioned."
The speakers’ naivete extended to their views on how to end the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Joe Kent, the Donald Trump-endorsed congressional candidate who is running against Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler for Washington state’s 3rd District, said it would be “reasonable” to reward Putin’s aggression by recognizing the independence of the breakaway Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Kent said such a concession would be acceptable because residents of those regions are Russian speakers, but the same principle would give Russia a right to intervene in Estonia and Latvia, two NATO members that also contain large Russian-speaking populations. This is no imaginary possibility: Russia has scared Sweden, which is not part of NATO, in recent years with a military buildup in its Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad, which has no strategic purpose other than threaten Poland and the Baltic NATO members. It speaks volumes that Kent does not recognize his principle for peace could lead to conflict between Russia and NATO or the alliance’s dissolution.
Nearly every conference speaker, including those on its final forward-looking panel, failed to provide a clear alternative to the foreign policy approach they decried. Former New York Post editor Sohrab Ahmari argued that more conservatives that share the speakers’ perspectives needed to move into government roles, but he never clarified what those people would do. Conservative speechwriter Michael Anton said these views would eventually prevail within the GOP because younger Republicans backed them and would eventually outvote the older, Cold War-era members of the party. But he did not explain exactly what these voters were for other than rejection of Bush-Obama era interventionism.
Only William Ruger, Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Afghanistan (though he was never confirmed), accepted the challenge to lay out an alternative foreign policy. He argued for limited U.S. involvement abroad, with military power only used to protect the United States’ few vital interests. But even Ruger did not clearly delineate what those interests are and which current entanglements should be discarded.
American conservatism has long had a libertarian and paleoconservative minority that eschewed active and consistent global engagement. That faction’s hero, Ohio Sen. Robert A. Taft, even opposed NATO’s creation in 1949 because he viewed it as unnecessarily provocative to the Soviet Union. Most conservatives, however, rejected these views long ago. They will continue to reject them so long as modern adherents fail to provide an alternative vision to make America more secure.