After World War I, the U.S. turned its back on Europe, thus allowing Hitler to take power. America’s isolationism today can save Putin.
Two weeks ago, now former Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy refused to allow Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was visiting Washington, to address Congress. However, his successor may be even worse for Kyiv. Supported by Donald Trump, Rep. Jim Jordan openly says that U.S. support for the Ukrainians should be stopped. His rival, Steve Scalise, doesn’t go that far, yet he remains closely tied to a radical faction of the Republican Party that opposes further U.S. involvement in the war against Russia.
Gen. Ben Hodges, the former commander of U.S. forces in Europe, said in an interview for Rzeczpospolita last week that Joe Biden is making a serious mistake by refusing to specify America’s real goal in Ukraine.
The president wants to fix it now. Sources in the White House say that he is preparing to deliver a major speech to the nation in which he will outline the overall U.S. strategy in the ongoing conflict in Eastern Europe. It is also possible that Biden will want to address Congress with a proposal to launch one mega-package for Ukraine worth $100 billion, which would be sufficient until the presidential election next November. Since the beginning of the invasion in February 2022, the U.S. has transferred a total of $113 billion in support for Zelenskyy, but in four packages, each provoking a heated discussion in Congress.
However, pushing this package through Congress would be very difficult. It is also doubtful whether the president will be able to reverse or even stop the dwindling American support for the Ukrainians. According to the Pew Research Center, only 35% of Republican, and 52% of Democratic, voters want to maintain aid to Ukraine. Trump, Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy, who represent 80% of Republican voters in the 2024 presidential election, announced that in the event of winning the White House, they will end the current cooperation with Kyiv.
The problem started in 2016 when Trump took control of the Republican Party and imposed a radical, populist direction on it. Not everyone in the party accepts it. Former President George W. Bush said last week that if the U.S. allows Ukraine to fall, it will have to defend Poland or other countries on NATO’s eastern flank from the Russian attack in the future. “This [invasion of Ukraine] isn’t the final step for Putin. He wants a large empire,” Bush said, suggesting Putin is obsessed with the concept.
Also, Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president, warned against a “new and dangerous form of isolationism” that is once again conquering America. It is driven in part by the country’s difficult economic situation, and in part by the belief that Washington should focus on confronting China and not be dissuaded from that goal by Ukrainian affairs.
The same happened after World War I. In 1920, Congress rejected membership in the League of Nations — a fundamental element of President Woodrow Wilson’s peace plan in Europe. His successors rejected U.S. involvement in the old continent’s problems, which greatly contributed to the emergence of the Third Reich.
Today, isolationists again have a huge influence on American politics, because the Republican majority (221, with a 212 Democratic minority) in the House of Representatives is a slim one. So a relatively small faction of Trump-aligned Republicans is enough to block further support for Ukraine. That happened last week when House Speaker McCarthy was ousted over a budget compromise he reached with Biden. This is even though the compromise assumed a reduction by a third ($6 billion) of the latest aid package for Ukraine.
Matt Gaetz, the Florida lawmaker who spearheaded the rebellion, says McCarthy was bound by a secret agreement with the White House to keep full aid to Ukraine. Half of the Republicans in the House of Representatives still support aid for Ukraine, and that number is enough for now because the Democrats want the same. Yet, the Ukrainian issue may lead to the final splitting of the Republican Party. And it is not certain whether Republicans who are sympathetic to Zelenskyy will be willing to sacrifice the unity of their party to protect aid for the fighting in Kyiv.
The paralysis in Washington comes at a bad time for Ukraine, when the fate of the Ukrainian counteroffensive is being decided, To avoid defeat, Zelenskyy needs long-range rocket launchers that would allow him to isolate Crimea.