Neo-isolationists on the right and left dismiss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as of little consequence to the U.S. To them, it’s a territorial dispute between faraway countries. Some even allege that America is largely responsible for the war: By encouraging democracy’s spread in Eastern Europe, the U.S. unnerved Vladimir Putin. It’s understandable, they say, that the dictator then unleashed his military to subjugate Ukraine.
That’s claptrap. Mr. Putin could have lived in peace with a democratic Ukraine just as Russia has coexisted for decades with neighboring democracies Finland and Norway. And the latter was one of the founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The blame for this war’s death and destruction lies squarely with the man in the Kremlin. It was Mr. Putin’s ambition to reconstruct Russia’s imperial empire that led Russia to seize Crimea in 2014 and invade the rest of Ukraine more than a year ago.
Well either way, the neo-isolationists argue, sending weapons and economic assistance to Ukraine takes away America’s ability to meet our own needs. And, besides, we won’t be affected by the war’s outcome.
Ukraine’s heroic resistance to Russia, a power hostile to the U.S., has dramatically improved America’s strategic position world-wide. The Kremlin has become far weaker, while NATO, which includes many of our most trusted allies, has become far stronger and more united than it has been since the Cold War. But if Russia prevails in the war, that progress would be reversed.
A Putin victory would also embolden some very nasty characters on the world stage, including North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Iran’s mullahs and China’s Xi Jinping. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg argues, “Beijing is watching closely and learning lessons that may influence its future decisions. So, what happens in Europe today could happen in Asia tomorrow.”
And Mr. Putin has made clear he’d prefer his bloody adventurism in Europe not to end in Ukraine. In addition to asserting in his July 2021 essay, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” that the “true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia,” Mr. Putin suggested Lithuania, Moldova, Belarus, and parts of Poland and Slovakia were once integral parts of Russia. The strongman told us he wants to grab more territory, and several of his targets are NATO allies, which the U.S. has pledged by treaty to aid with our armed forces if they’re attacked. Neo-isolationists worry about what weapons and aid to Ukraine are costing America, but pulling our support risks American lives down the road.
There’s more than our strategic interests at stake. A Europe threatened by an aggressive, resurgent and hostile Russia isn’t in our economic interests, either. The European Union bought $349 billion of U.S. goods in 2022; our bilateral trading and investment relationship with the EU is the largest in the world. If Mr. Putin conquers Ukraine and demands fealty from European nations, it will result in fewer purchases of American exports.
You can bet Europe won’t be importing much liquefied natural gas from Louisiana if Mr. Putin conquers Ukraine. The Continent will get its energy from the unchecked dictatorship to the east. And rather than Europe buying everything from computers and farm machinery to consumer goods and business services from the U.S., China and Russia would likely use their “no limits” partnership to pressure Europe to buy from them instead. That would all cost American jobs and economic growth.
A Putin victory in Ukraine would also raise questions in Asia about America’s resolve. Our allies there would likely strengthen trade and investment ties with China at America’s expense. And if China invades Taiwan, say goodbye to the $43.7 billion in goods America sold the island nation in 2022 and our imports of $91.8 billion, mostly chips and electronic components. Remember when the Covid pandemic squeezed semiconductor supplies in 2020? This would be far worse.
And sending military assistance to Ukraine is good for our economy to begin with. Washington is largely paying for American workers to make the weapons, bullets, missiles and equipment we send.
If the U.S. abandons Ukraine after all its courage and sacrifice, it would be a strategic, economic and moral catastrophe that would reduce our influence around the world and damage our economy. Aiding Ukraine is putting America’s interests first.