Republican patience with supporting Ukraine is running out

Robert Bolt’s masterpiece, A Man For All Seasons, tells the story of the doomed, heroic, and very human Sir Thomas More. The moral is that it easy to believe in things when they are popular; far harder, and far more important to do so, when they mean that you will risk something.

I’m not going to be beheaded, as was More. But I do bear an unfashionable message.

Almost the whole of the British elite supports the trendy, hawkish view regarding the war in Ukraine: that Volodymyr Zelensky must be entirely supported and given whatever he wishes. After over a dozen meetings with every sector of the British elite recently, this uniformity of belief was by far my firm’s most striking takeaway. There is literally no debate as to whether this is the wise course.

One common assumption was that Ukraine was self-evidently winning the war, and that American support for Kiev would be endless. The only time I saw any of my British friends squirm was when I suggested that both these lazy suppositions are deeply questionable.

First, the war is devolving into a stalemate that is likely to go on for the next year. Second, as Boris Johnson’s visit to Washington, Republican patience with endless, extensive support for what amounts to (at best) a second-order prioritym is wearing very thin.

These views are not popular. That doesn’t mean they are wrong.

Winter has predictably seen the war grind into stalemate; now two questions may well determine the outcome of the contest.

Will Russian domestic alarm at a lack of victory, now that Vladimir Putin has had to call up reservists in a draft, doom his adventurism? Or will the US, which is overwhelmingly keeping the lights on in Ukraine, experience war weariness of its own?

The realist danger ought to be obvious: Russia, seeing Ukraine as a first-order interest (as America would Mexico), will always care more about the war in Ukraine than the US.

Come the spring, it is clear the Russians will throw new masses of men, numbering between 180,000-300,000 new conscripts, onto the offensive. Although little more than cannon fodder, the new troops are likely by simple numbers to make some gains, if not decisively overrun the country.

Then it will be the Ukrainians turn. Bolstered by more advanced weaponry from its NATO allies, including a number of Leopard 2 tanks from Germany and Europe and Abrams tanks from the US, Kyiv will likely blunt the Russian drive and undertake an offensive of their own, which in turn will grind to a halt given Russian numerical superiority.

If all this holds, we will be back where we are now at the end of the year, in an increasingly attritional war with masses of casualties with little to show for the horrendous sacrifices. It is then, a year on from now, that war fatigue on both sides will become the overriding question.

Little-covered in the British press is that American support, is already fraying. The Republicans, never fashionable at the best of times, has come to the deeply unpopular view that support for Zelensky must be limited, conditional, and even come to an end over time. While almost no-one in the GOP is cheerleading for Putin, they is not mindlessly in the tank for Kiev either.

January polling in the Washington Post makes this clear: a comfortable majority of Democrats supports Joe Biden’s Wilsonian line, but for the first time a bare majority of Republicans (with the trend line decisively heading downwards) is against giving further aid. This bombshell has received far too little exposure in London.

There are three broad factors that together explain this steady erosion in political support.

First, years of frustration at allied free-riding in terms of defence spending are finally bearing fruit.

While for Washington Ukraine is demonstrably a second- or even third-order priority, it is accepted that this is not true in Europe, much closer to the fighting and more affected by the outcome.

Yet, once again, the US seems to care more about European security than do the Europeans. In terms of total aid, America has committed an eye-watering $120 billion to Ukraine, more than the rest of the world put together.

Europe’s collective GDP is roughly the same as America’s, yet 70-plus years after the founding of NATO we find that the US is still cross-subsidizing Europe’s safety net by paying a disproportionate share of the common defence.

Enough, an increasing number of Republicans think, is enough. If the war matters as much as European hawks think, it is time for them to put their money where their mouth is – or simply stop having bold, expensive postures that American taxpayers must pay for.

Second, conveniently forgotten in all the ringing Times editorials, is that fact that America has a debilitating set of domestic problems itself that simply aren’t being addressed. The pandemic made plain that America’s schools are a mess; doing away with testing (as the teacher’s unions advocatine) won’t this glaringly issue any less real.

America’s kids don’t know nearly enough; its infrastructure is falling apart. The opioid crisis (with fentanyl killing more than 70,000 in 2021) is as grossly underreported at home and abroad as it is dangerous to the nation. Border policy is non-existent.

American elites don’t discuss these vital issues enough; practically no foreign commentary dwells on them at all. Were they the centre of media attention the idea that the US ought, or at least might, choose to re-focus on its domestic problems would not seem so outlandish.

Third, and the reason for my personal flagging support, is the geopolitical argument against over-committing to Ukraine. The strategic future of the world is undoubtedly in the Indo-Pacific, location of much of both the world’s future economic growth and its future political risk as China and the US vie for dominance.

For that reason, my firm spends roughly 70 percent of our time on the region. It is safe to say that the Biden administration, in terms of both money and focus, spends far less than they should, and the obvious reason is the war.

The idea that America can do everything is false. With US debt standing at an unfathomable 31 trillion dollars, doubling defence spending to avoid difficult foreign policy decisions is just magical thinking.

It should be obvious that the US should be focusing like a laser-beam on assembling the broadest possible alliance in the Indo-Pacific, training with them and arming them to the teeth, in order to make the Chinese hesitate in making a lunge at Taiwan.

Only by so doing, and (hopefully) peacefully halting China’s adventurous designs can global peace and prosperity be guaranteed for the next generation.

It should go without saying, but it does not, that the strategic outcome in the Indo-Pacific is overwhelmingly more important than the fate of Ukraine. Yet, nonsensically, the Biden administration is diverting weapons caches promised to Taipei to Kyiv.

For Wilsonian utopians, strategic choices never have to be made; every problem is equal, and all can be solved. But even the US economy has limits, as does the patience of the American people. The public support necessary for a vast new defence spending programme isn’t there.

A year from now, it is a certainty that for all these sound realist reasons, Republican support for the war will be lower than it is today. With the election will be on the horizon, whoever is the GOP nominee (likely Ron DeSantis or Donald Trump) will likely share the party’s view.

Such a shift in the US position will come as a nasty surprise to many. But they will have nobody to blame but themselves for not seeing it coming.

This piece was originally published in Conservative Home

Why Biden’s mid-term ‘comeback’ is just wishful thinking

Climate analyst Bjorn Lomborg put it perfectly when he said: “Wishful thinking is not sound public policy.”The vast majority of political risk mistakes are made for this one simple reason; most analysts confuse what they would like to happen with what is likely to happen.

This is a primary analytical lesson the in-the-tank leftist mainstream American media have yet to learn. Functioning as little more than the propaganda arm of the Democratic Party — while arrogantly professing to represent some sort of objective truth (i.e. all sane people agree with them) — the popularly derided press continually confuse what they would like to happen with the facts dancing in front of their eyes. This explains their excitement at Joe Biden’s political “comeback,” and what it means for the revival of Democratic hopes in the November mid-term election.

The standard media argument, backing up their favored Democratic Party, goes something like this: “The overturning of Roe vs. Wade is unpopular, as a majority of Americans support abortion rights, which plays to the White House’s advantage. The president has things moving again with finally passing a watered-down version of his grab-bag progressive spending bill, allocating $740 billion for climate change projects and to lower medical costs. The forgiveness of billions of dollars of student loan debts is immensely popular, particularly among young millennials who will now vote for the Democrats in droves. The FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago has exposed arch-enemy Donald Trump once again as a menace to society at large. All of this will allow us (er, I mean the Democrats) to overcome the historical odds and actually win the mid-terms.”

Let us pick this pathetic excuse for political risk analysis apart, line by line. First, it is true that protecting abortion rights of some kind (though not as expansively as Democrats advocate) is popular in the US. However, few people vote as a result of this issue. Abortion rights is about the fifth most important motivational issue for voters, nowhere near in the league of the dominant cost-of-living crisis as a concern. So, at best, this favors the White House only at the margins.

Second, in this time of rampant 8.5 percent inflation in July, hovering near a multidecade high, Biden’s stubborn insistence on ruinously spending money doesn’t just seem partisan, it seems dangerous. By a long way, voters are most concerned about inflation and the economy, and how the Federal Reserve and the Biden White House incompetently let the inflation genie out of the bottle, two generations after Fed chair Paul Volcker and Ronald Reagan tamed the savage beast. Instead, Biden first belittled the problem, then said inflation would be transitory, then said why don’t we focus on job creation numbers instead? Wrong, wrong, and wrong. The country blames the White House for the scourge of inflation simply because the economic illiterates in the administration have continued to spend money like drunken sailors, all reality to the contrary.

Third, the utterly unfair (I personally paid back a treasure trove of loans by working hard and am utterly mortified at being made of fool of by a White House shamefully looking to buy votes) student loan “forgiveness” policy is obviously mis-named. The loans don’t simply disappear like a magic trick, leftist fantasies to the contrary. No, they form part of the general government debt, to be paid down in taxes by non-college graduates and those of us who already paid their loans — while the millennials, whose work ethic collectively is appalling, take another “experiential holiday.” This desperate effort to buy the young’s electoral loyalty is unlikely to work, because statistically they tend to be too lazy to vote in decisive numbers, and the rest of us are furious at the unfairness of this latest progressive ploy.

Fourth, while it appears Trump has (yet again) behaved badly over keeping classified government documents, he is hardly alone. Former presidents are often at war with the government over which documents are theirs and which belong to the country. Former Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger went so far as to stuff some unflattering documents in his pants and socks (you simply cannot make this stuff up) only to be found out as he attempted to slink away from the National Archives. And don’t get me started on the nauseatingly privileged treatment Hillary Clinton was given by the FBI over her illegal home-brew server. In these other cases, the FBI did not storm the homes of the guilty, as they did with Trump and Mar-a-Lago. Ironically, this double standard actually bolsters Trump’s standing, as his charge that there is one set of rules for Democrats and another for Republicans sadly looks all too true.

For all these reasons, don’t buy the hype about the Biden “comeback.” My firm, which called the 2020 outcome perfectly (down to the tie in the Senate) has the GOP still likely to take the House by 20-30 seats with the Senate still too close to call (today we have it at 50-50). When wishful thinking replaces genuine thinking, you get stories such as these.

This piece was originally published in Arab News.