Mitch McConnell conflates realism with isolationism

It is no secret that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has a pretty clear disdain for any senator from his party who might be skeptical of writing checks to Ukraine as the country continues to try to repel the Russian army that invaded two years ago.

In fact, given McConnell’s track record, it is not unreasonable to conclude he values funding Ukraine over domestic priorities such as securing the southern border. But in a recent interview, McConnell, who is set to step down as leader of the Senate Republican Conference at the end of the year, said he plans to dedicate the rest of his time in the Senate to push back against the “isolationist” wing of the Republican Party.

“I’m not leaving the Senate. And I’m particularly involved in fighting back against the isolationist movement,” he said on Louisville’s NewsRadio 840. “For the next couple of years, it’s something I’m going to focus on.”

The subtext of McConnell’s comments is this: Sens. J.D. Vance (R-OH), Rand Paul (R-KY), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and a few others have dared to buck the party line and have opposed blank checks to Ukraine, arguing that such funds are not ending the war but prolonging it and are wasting billions of taxpayers dollars while not advancing in any meaningful way the national security interests of the United States.

Vance, Paul, Hawley, and the rest of the party members who opposes Ukraine aid are not isolationists — they are realists, meaning they recognize the reality of the world situation and are unwilling to adopt a rigid ideological policy agenda on foreign policy, knowing that such rigidity serves little purpose on the world stage. McConnell is conflating the two approaches to foreign policy in an attempt to tab his colleagues with a moniker that carries a negative connotation.

For most, isolationism hearkens back to the days before World War II when a number of politicians opposed all involvement in the war prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor and abetted the national indifference toward Nazi Germany. This is not what realism is.

The anti-Ukraine aid Republicans are smart enough to recognize that the situation in Ukraine is not Nazi Germany, it has no tangibly achievable goals besides prolonging the inevitable, and the U.S. is giving billions of dollars to a country that has a history of deep-seated corruption. In other words, it is not money well spent, and the national security benefits are not clear.

A telling remark came from McConnell ally Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who said in February that Vance’s concerns that aid to Ukraine would not change the country’s situation on the battlefield is “as accurate as it is irrelevant.”

Ukraine is not going to defeat Russia on its own. It lacks the funding, weaponry, and personnel to win. The spirited defense of the homeland by the nation’s people for the last two years prolonged the inevitable, but reality was going to set in sooner or later, and the Ukrainian army has started losing ground to the invading Russian military.

The only way for Russia to be stopped in the long term in Ukraine is for NATO to dedicate ground troops to the war effort, a prospect that risks nuclear war. As such, there is little interest in committing to that course of action, even from the likes of McConnell and Romney.


So if NATO won’t dedicate ground troops, and Ukraine is doomed on the battlefield without them, Vance and his colleagues, many of whom have shown a willingness to provide foreign military aid to other countries in the past, especially Israel, are right to question what is the purpose of U.S. funding to Ukraine.

If the goal is to end the conflict and stop the bloodshed without engaging militarily, then gifting billions to a hopeless cause will not achieve that, no matter how noble the cause is. The only path forward for Ukraine is to negotiate a settlement that likely cedes the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine to Russia. To recognize that is to be a realist, not an isolationist.

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