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Malicious, Stupid, Or Compromised? The MAGA Republican Position On Support For Ukraine

Paul Niland analyses the disinformation contained within a Republican Senator’s TV interview

Republican Senator J D Vance on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ programme 10 December 2023

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On the afternoon of Sunday 10 December I saw that Republican Senator J D Vance was due to appear on CNN’s State of the Union show with Jake Tapper. Expecting that the interview would be laced with falsehoods, I stood by with a notepad in hand to live tweet corrections, however, considering the volume and speed of them a deeper analysis of his remarks is in order.

A video of the exchange can be found here. With time stamps from that video, let’s set the record straight.

1:10 – Vance says in his first response to why he opposes aid to Ukraine, “everybody knows, at least everybody with a brain knows that this was always going to end with negotiation. The idea that Ukraine was going to throw Russia back to the 1991 borders was preposterous, nobody believed it.”

Both parts of this are wrong. The notion that all wars eventually end with negotiations is simply false. The absolute evil that was the Nazi regime required that they be comprehensively defeated to bring the Second World War to an end. Putin’s Russia is no less evil and their defeat is equally required. And the vast majority of Ukrainians believed and believe in returning the borders of Ukraine to those that are internationally recognised. Vance can drop in his qualifiers like “anyone with a brain” or that “nobody believed” something to make it sound like he’s speaking for the reasonable folks out there, he’s not, this is simply a bullying tactic.

1:32 – Vance declared “you need to remember Jake that Ukraine is functionally destroyed as a country.” Despite the best efforts of Putin and his army, this is not true. Despite fighting this awful war, Ukraine is and will continue to be a functioning and developing state. As the substantial progress towards preparing the country for membership of the EU, during war time, clearly demonstrates.

1:56 – “we are getting to a place where we are going to be functionally on the hook to pay for Ukrainian pensioners, to rebuild the entire country, we need to bring the killing to a stop and that’s what American leadership should be doing, not writing more blank cheques for the war.”

Ukraine isn’t asking for the United States to pay pensions, nor will the US be on the hook to foot the reconstruction bill after the war ends. Ukraine’s economy will meet state obligations through taxation after the enormous cost of fighting this war has ended. As for the reconstruction costs, many reasoned voices are calling for the bulk of that to be met through allocating the reserves of Russia’s Central Bank that have been frozen in the west since the full-scale war, some $350 billion, be used to fund the reconstruction of what they destroyed. It won’t be enough, but it is a good start.

How Vance moves then to “we need the killing to stop” is puzzling, it is an obvious non-sequitur. But for the record, no-one wishes for the killing to stop more than those of us who have love and affection for those facing the very real prospect of being killed.

The “no more blank cheques” is a common trope from the extreme voices of the Republican Party, it is not true. The amount of US support for Ukraine is not only well known and publicly available information, it is also a fact that this money does not actually go to Ukraine, by and large. 90% of the sum “spent” on US military aid to Ukraine stays in the United States and benefits American citizens.

In his next response, answering Tapper’s point of the Russian threat to other countries, Vance states that this is “preposterous”. It is anything but, ask anyone in the Baltic countries how they view the threat of reoccupation by Russia.

3:35 – Vance then says that “[America’s] Ukraine policy just doesn’t make a ton of sense” and asks “what are we trying to do here, what is the end goal? Until the President can articulate an answer to those questions, I don’t think we should write another blank cheque.”

While it is true that the Biden Administration has not done enough to effectively communicate the reasons for supporting Ukraine, leaving that void to be filled with disinformation about “blank cheques” and the like, the goal is very clear, it is the not-preposterous idea of ejecting the Russian invaders from all of Ukraine, and continuing to make the occupation of Crimea untenable for Putin is very much not only a key to that, but it is already underway with Ukraine’s repeated targeting of Russia’s naval assets in that area.

4:10 – Vance then utters “we can’t take strategic decisions based on stark morality tales.” Really? The GOP of old would shudder to hear such words. “We have to figure out what is in America’s best interests” Vance goes on to say. Well, alongside China, unchecked Russia was, is, and will continue to be a strategic threat to the United States, that is why spending a measly 5.25% of your defence budget to eliminate that threat is not only in the best interests of the US, it is also a bargain.

4:25 – “what’s in America’s best interests is to accept that Ukraine is going to have to cede some territory to Russia.” Why? The occupied territories were seized by military force, in 2014 and 2022, and the idea of rewarding Russia for that is reprehensible. This kind of thinking is also rooted in a partial buy-in to Russian propaganda, that they had some kind of justification in taking these lands because “Russian-speakers” live there. This is the kind of thinking that appeased Hitler in the lead up to World War Two, at the eventual cost of millions of lives.

After meandering through some responses to questions on abortion rights and access to birth control, the conversation then turns to Trump. “He was an effective successful President, I think he will be an effective successful President again, that’s why I have endorsed him” Vance says. To outside observers the cult of Trumpism is really quite bewildering. His record was not one of effective leadership, nor success. He spent his four years in the White House mainly lying and promising great things, but not actually delivering on anything other than the party that he led passing massive tax cuts to their own donors.

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Trump repeatedly promised a great healthcare policy would be announced “soon” but that never materialised. There was always going to be an infrastructure week, and it was always going to be next week, that never happened either. These are facts. The only reason why some Republicans continue to back Trump is that he is the key to a large block of voters, and they are the key to power for them.

Back to the question of Ukraine. Why is Vance, and others of like minds, so wrong on Ukraine? Are they being malicious? Are they playing politics with the fate of a nation and the 40 million inhabitants of that nation, because the default is to automatically argue against anything that is Biden Administration policy?

Are they arguing for Ukraine to cede territory out of stupidity, believing that in some way Russia is entitled to parts of their neighbouring country? Or are they compromised by their knowledge of the fact of Russia having helped Trump into the White House in 2016 and they are making a blatant attempt to repeat that feat in next year’s election? If they are compromised in this way, they are not only gambling with the fate of Ukraine, they are also gambling with the fate of the United States of America, too.

There’s a word for those who collude with an enemy, it is treason.

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