Lately, we’ve seen a small rush of self-serving conservatives happy to proclaim that they’ve voted against Ukraine aid in order to keep our dollars home.

While that’s a convenient political excuse for not sending money to a fellow democracy fighting for its survival, it’s not really a legitimate argument, nor is it a true point of contention in a broader policy debate. If conservatives want to vote against sending aid to Ukraine, they should not only be able to enunciate why they’re against it but what they would rather do with the money instead – including specific budget cuts of an equivalent amount, if they’re claiming fiscal responsibility as motivation.

You see, all too often, we let conservative isolationists – or, indeed, isolationists of any stripe – get away with saying that they’re against sending aid to Ukraine (or whatever nation is involved in the crisis du jour) without saying anything at all about what their alternative solution to the problem is. That’s part of the problem with opposing a governmental policy of any sort: You have to say what you would do if you were in charge instead.

Look, if you’ve ever watched a true crime drama or documentary series, you know you need not only to deflect attention from your client but also to provide an alternative theory for who might have committed the crime of which your client is accused. This is one of the basics of popular crime TV, and yet it’s a point that many of our supposedly brilliant career politicians seem to not understand: You need not only to oppose a proposal, but also present an alternate solution.

We see this at the federal level, where Sen. Susan Collins and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are not only failing to oppose the Biden administration but also are correctly working with the White House to aid Ukraine. Collins and McConnell are willing to work with President Biden on a solution to the war in Europe; unfortunately, many Republicans would rather oppose them without floating any real ideas of their own.

Sadly, many conservatives seem unwilling to admit that supporting Ukraine is not just a moral imperative but also in America’s national interest, so they continually invent nonsensical reasons not do it. Witness Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s petulant display of nationalism on the Senate floor the other day. He did not go to Sen. McConnell, his home-state colleague and leader, to address his concerns privately (as far as we know). Instead, he thrust them upon the Senate floor for the entire world to see, laying bare the internal divisions within the Senate Republican Conference.


If you think that his actions defy all logic at a time of global consensus, you’re not wrong. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is so shocking that Finland and Sweden, two formerly neutral countries, are submitting formal applications to join NATO.

They have been largely welcomed with open arms, as is appropriate, since they are stable European democracies that deserve to be NATO members. Indeed, the only NATO member who questions their applications is one who probably should not be one themselves: Turkey, a pseudo-democratic nation that is, nonetheless, perched on Russia’s periphery and whose legitimate security concerns should be addressed.

At some point – whether it’s this week or next year –  Turkey’s concerns will be addressed and Finland and Sweden will be admitted as the newest members of NATO.

The question is not whether Finland and Sweden will ultimately end up being accepted as full members of NATO, but rather one of timing. Turkey may well attempt to throw a solid wrench into the works, but it will only delay the process, at best. Unfortunately, the admission of Finland and Sweden to NATO will likely face objections not only from Turkey, but also from short-sighted, petulant American politicians.

There has always been a strain of politically convenient populist-isolationism in both parties that is more than willing to abandon NATO, and the postwar order, simply to win their own elections, without regard for consequences. We’ve seen that in years past on the left, in the form of activists who argue for reducing American military spending without considering who might replace us on the global stage.

At the moment, the primary home of nationalism is on the right: Trumpsters and America-Firsters making a similar argument. That is the fight we are truly facing: Not only whether Ukraine remains free, but also whether the postwar international order itself remains relevant going forward.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @jimfossel

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