This weekend, Tucker Carlson interviewed a bevy of Republican presidential candidates in Iowa. Despite the fact that polls show that nearly zero Americans consider the war in Ukraine to be a top voting priority, Carlson spent a disproportionate share of his time grilling the candidates over their position on Ukraine. He took the position that favoring additional aid to Ukraine in its defensive war against Russia amounted to taking money out of the hands of poverty-stricken Americans in inner cities; as he asked Mike Pence, “Every city in the United States has become much worse over the past three years. Our economy has degraded. The suicide rate has jumped. Public filth and disorder and crime have exponentially increased. And yet your concern is that the Ukrainians, a country most people can’t find on a map, who’ve received tens of billions of U.S. tax dollars, don’t have enough tanks?”
This same line of logic was utilized over the weekend by Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, who spoke at the Turning Point USA conference in Florida. “There’s no issue that these people with the Ukrainian flags in their bio are more obsessed with, they call it entitlement reform but what they’re saying is they want to cut Social Security... so we can send more money to Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Ukraine,” Vance said. Never mind the fact that this is patently untrue: Those with Ukraine flags in their Twitter bios are highly likely to favor massive governmental expenditures domestically. Never mind the fact that Vance himself used to be a proponent of entitlement reform.
The true concern is the absolutely specious link between a hawkish foreign policy and apathy about domestic concerns. Ukraine has become a litmus test not because many Americans care about it as a top issue; it has become a top issue because many commentators and politicians now make the argument that if you wish to spend a dollar in Ukraine to fend off Russian predation, you must be unconcerned about the suffering of American citizens here at home.
There are several problems with this logic.
First off, the basic notion that pouring government money into inner cities somehow cures them of their problems is belied by 60 years of trying just that strategy, to massive failure. In most cases, we’d be better off not spending government dollars on boondoggle programs, no matter where else we spend money.
Then there’s the argument that isolationist foreign policy somehow results in greater American prosperity -- that American citizens would be better off if we simply allowed Russia to march into Kyiv. This argument is disconnected from reality. It has no logical limits -- why not let China take Taiwan or Russia take Poland? What’s the limiting principle? But it also ignores the fact that American citizens have real interests abroad: The Ukraine war has disrupted supply lines in resources ranging from platinum and titanium to grain and oil; Russia’s routine threats against its neighbors and expansionism in regions ranging from Africa to Syria threaten American allies and strengthen America’s enemies, who further threaten American economic and security interests; China, buoyed by a soft Western response, would presumably move toward a full-scale Taiwan invasion.
Hawkishness is not allied to domestic poverty; in fact, hawkishness in the aftermath of World War II helped protect the safety of the oceans and the skies, thus leading to the greatest outpouring of prosperity in history. But regardless of what you think of America’s support for Ukraine, it is dishonest to suggest that those who seek to fund Ukraine are universally apathetic about their fellow Americans. That implication is yet another symptom of our broken and polarized politics, in which nuanced arguments are ignored in favor of character attacks.