January 26, 2024 | National Review

Ronald Reagan Would Never Betray Ukraine

Neither should Congress.
January 26, 2024 | National Review

Ronald Reagan Would Never Betray Ukraine

Neither should Congress.

‘We must stand by all our democratic allies,” Ronald Reagan declared during his 1985 State of the Union address. “And we must not break faith with those who are risking their lives . . . to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth.” As Reagan saw it, America had both a moral and a strategic imperative to aid free peoples in resisting authoritarian aggression, as Ukraine is now. “If there had been firmer support for that principle some 45 years ago,” the president observed during his famous 1982 Westminster speech, “perhaps our generation wouldn’t have suffered the bloodletting of World War II.”

Unfortunately, some Republicans seem to have forgotten this wisdom. After initially enjoying bipartisan support, Ukraine aid has met with increasing skepticism from GOP voters and their representatives in Congress. For months, some congressional Republicans have stymied efforts to pass Ukraine funding for the current fiscal year. This inaction imperils both Ukraine’s future and vital U.S. interests. It must end now.

Last October, the White House requested just over $100 billion in supplemental funding, most of it for assistance to Ukraine and Israel and investments in the U.S. defense industry. But Republicans refused to pass further Ukraine aid unless it was paired with legislation to secure America’s southern border.

After protracted negotiations, the Senate appeared close to a compromise bill. But that effort may now be doomed amid opposition from some House and Senate Republicans under the sway of former president Donald Trump, who wishes to save the border issue for the campaign trail. Whether Congress will move a standalone aid bill is unclear. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) continues to champion Ukraine aid, but he’ll need cooperation from Speaker Mike Johnson (R., La.), whose support among the party’s fringe is already shaky.

While Congress dithers, Washington has been forced to halt aid commitments to Ukraine. “We’re out of money,” the Pentagon press secretary declared on January 4, a week after the administration announced its last assistance package for Kyiv.

Ukrainian troops have already had to tighten their belts. Ukraine’s rate of artillery fire has plummeted due to “shell hunger,” made worse by uncertainty about when more U.S. ammunition will arrive. Officials in Kyiv worry that Ukraine’s air-defense units will run out of interceptor missiles even as Russia bombards Ukrainian cities.

A permanent end to American aid would spell disaster for Ukraine, as U.S. intelligence has warned. While European countries have actually pledged more aid than the United States, particularly in terms of financial and humanitarian assistance, Europe cannot carry the military-aid burden alone. And without U.S. leadership, many of Ukraine’s European backers may eventually lose heart and cut aid, too. Indeed, Congress’s inaction seems to have reinforced Vladimir Putin’s determination that Russia can outlast Western resolve. Kyiv’s foreign assistance will “run out some day, and it seems it already is,” he gloated last month.

Moscow’s forces, meanwhile, have regained the initiative, buoyed by increased domestic defense–industrial production and supplies from North Korea and Iran. Although Russia has managed to make only minor territorial gains in recent weeks, that trickle will likely grow into a torrent if the West pulls the rug out from under Kyiv’s feet. And where Russian forces go, atrocities against civilians tend to follow.

But Ukrainians aren’t the only ones who’d suffer from a Russian victory. By surrendering a fellow democracy to an authoritarian bully, the United States would damage its global reputation and invite further aggression.

“History teaches that wars begin when governments believe the price of aggression is cheap,” Reagan warned in 1984. “To keep the peace, we and our allies must . . . convince any potential aggressor that war could bring no benefit, only disaster.” Abandoning Ukraine now would send the opposite message. Moscow, Beijing, and other adversaries would learn that while Washington may initially resist their imperialist ambitions, it will eventually give up if they persist long enough.

Putin, believing he’s withstood the best America had to throw at him, would only be more dangerous, especially once Moscow had rebuilt its military. Heightened instability on the European continent would, in turn, draw U.S. attention and resources away from priorities in the Indo-Pacific. After having witnessed Washington break faith with Kyiv, China might feel more inclined to pursue military aggression against Taiwan. It’s no coincidence that Taipei’s envoy to the United States has said, “Ukraine’s survival is Taiwan’s survival. Ukraine’s success is Taiwan’s success.”

Seeming to recognize these threats, even Johnson has acknowledged that Ukraine aid is a “necessity,” although he insists the border must be the “top priority.”

Republicans should never have insisted on linking these two issues in the first place, but here we are. If the aid-for-border deal is indeed dead, Johnson must move a standalone aid bill. The speaker will have to make a choice: Does he surrender to short-sighted members of his party? Or does he do what he knows to be in America’s best interest and pass more Ukraine aid?

To any admirer of Reagan, the choice should be clear.

JOHN HARDIE serves as deputy director of the Russia Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy. @johnh105


Military and Political Power Russia U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy Ukraine