Why Not America First?

It’s challenging to say something original about the Ukraine war. It’s been debated now for more than a year, and it’s not over yet. But that’s bad news for those supporting the war. Most Americans’ interest in foreign policy matters is limited, and many expect quicker favorable results than are probably ever possible in war. A year of war in a far-off land—another war in another far-off land—is not something Americans are likely to support for long, especially if it’s led by a stumble-bum president who picks incompetents for cabinet secretaries, campaigned for a mentally challenged stroke victim, and may be compromised by his son’s business dealings. 

Critics of those opposing the war have made several mistakes. One of the most egregious was accusing those who opposed the war of being pro-Putin. You don’t have to be pro-Putin to be against this war. Even if the pro-Putin argument were sincere (andit isn’t), it was wholly discredited by the Democrats’ actions in the 2016 presidential campaign: they smeared Donald Trump, claiming he was pro-Putin, and made unsupported charges that he was Putin’s candidate, that Putin was assisting his campaign—charges that fell to pieces on closer scrutiny. There was no truth in the charges, and probably only people still afflicted with Trump Derangement Syndrome believe them. So when Americans hear people accusing those opposed to the war of being pro-Putin, most of them probably just tune out. Some of them will suspect the accusers, correctly, of nefarious intent.

The most recent ploy by the war’s supporters is to play the Reagan card. Ronald Reagan, they say, would surely have supported Ukraine as a way of opposing Putin. 

But the Cold War is over, ended, decades ago, by Ronald Reagan—though the left-wing media never gave him the credit: they gave it instead to Mikhail Gorbachev, showing their anti-Reagan bias, their stupidity, or both. Soviet Russia was a global threat when Reagan was president. Putin’s Russia is not. And truth be told, it turned out that even the threat from Communist Russia was overestimated by U.S. intelligence agencies—which, on a good day, would have a hard time telling you what day of the week Christmas is this year. 

There is nothing good about the war in Ukraine, but it is surely not the most important threat to the United States. Our most dangerous threat is China. A secondary threat is Russia, and not because of their military capability, which we now know is far weaker than our intelligence agencies had thought (when is Christmas this year?), but because they have nearly 6,000  nuclear weapons, which are inherently dangerous. 

Perhaps the worst result of the war in Ukraine, so far, has been to drive the Russians and the Chinese into each other’s arms: if not in loving embrace, at least in some sort of mutual understanding. We know what the Chinese want: world domination. What the Russians need right now is help in their lackluster war against Ukraine. Their relationship may not be marriage; but date night can be challenging enough for the United States, whose preeminence has been unmatched for nearly eight decades.

Allan Ryskind, the former co-owner of the former Human Events, is making the case for U.S. support of the war, quoting, quite surprisingly, Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice. How times change! Ramesh Ponnuru, now editor of National Review, says Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (who opposes the war) is ignoring the lessons of Neville Chamberlain. Ponnuru needs to brush up on World War II.

Some who oppose the war have said the United States should spend the money we have given to Ukraine (running now at about $75 billion a year) here at home, on our fellow Americans citizens. What’s more, if the United States really cared about borders, we would secure our own southern border before paying any mind to Ukraine’s border with Russia. 

The response has been that the amount the United States has given Ukraine is not, in the scheme of U.S. things, all that much. A billion, or even $75 billion, may not sound like much to the chattering classes and the top one percent. But it’s not just the money; it’s also the principle. Why do we care so much about Ukraine and so little about Appalachia.

Another response is that the money we “give” to Ukraine is actually, or mostly, spent here in the United States buying armaments. So we are really just giving it to American companies—shades of Franklin Roosevelt’s “We owe it to ourselves.” But making arms manufacturers rich is not, somehow, quite the same thing as helping Americans in despair. And speaking of armaments—the reports are that the United States has drawn down its armaments to dangerous levels: no wonder the Chinese are interested in helping the Russians continue this war. 

And it is certainly true that the Biden Administration doesn’t give a fig for borders. Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, says the U.S. southern border is “secure.” Given that he has not been fired by the president, the argument that the United States (or at least that this administration) cares about borders doesn’t pass the laugh test. Since Biden became president, almost 5 million illegal aliens have crossed the U.S. southern border, importing crime and drugs. Last year 100,000 Americans died of fentanyl overdoses, mostly smuggled into the country over that border that Biden refuses to secure. 

Why should Americans care more about war-weary Ukrainians than about dead Americans? It may be true—it surely is true—that if the United States were not supporting Ukraine, Biden still wouldn’t secure the U.S. border. But please let us not have any lectures from this administration about the importance of borders. Don’t say you respect women if you slap your mother. 

We have been told that the Ukrainians have fought bravely. How do we know? Are we to trust the media?

Even if the Ukrainians win this war (whatever that means), Ukraine has been destroyed. It is estimated that it will take not years, not decades, but generations to rebuild the country. And who will pay for that? Kansas? Where are Messrs. Ryskind’s and Ponnuru’s lectures on Pyrrhic victories?

Biden needs a front-page war to distract from his disastrous presidency. Modern-day Democrats, completely woke, are hell-bent on destroying America, and happy to spend gazillions of dollars on far-off wars—and let America go hang. 

But the tide may be turning: according to the Pew Research Center, “40% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents hold [the view that the U.S. is providing too much support to Ukraine], up from 32% in the fall and much higher than the 9% who held this view in [March of 2022].”

That looks like a trend an imaginative Republican, or an imaginative Republican Party, could tap into. America First should always be the default position of Americans, whether fighting Nazis, Russian Communists, or Chinese Communists. Given the manifest incompetence of the Biden Administration—the withdrawal from Afghanistan comes to mind—sensible Republicans should be able to interest their fellow Americans in rebuilding the America abandoned by the current administration—by the party of Alejandro Mayorkas, Pete Buttigieg, John Fetterman, Hunter Biden, and the always-feckless octogenarian Joe (“you know, the thing”) Biden. 

America first, always—three words even Republicans should be able to remember.

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About Daniel Oliver

Daniel Oliver is chairman of the board of the Education and Research Institute and a director of the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy in San Francisco. In addition to serving as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Reagan, he was executive editor and subsequently chairman of the board of William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review. Email him at Daniel.Oliver@TheCandidAmerican.com.

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