The Hill


Are the MAGA Republicans who want to cut off U.S. aid to Ukraine acting ethically? To put the matter bluntly, are they supporting the war crimes Russia is committing in Ukraine or not?

The questions are disturbing, even incendiary, especially as they force us — and the MAGA Republicans — to ask whether we are as guilty as the Russians in supporting a leader, Vladimir Putin, and a war that is intentionally destroying a nation.

The philosopher Peter Singer has suggested an intriguing way of addressing this kind of question in his “drowning child” thought experiment. Here’s the way Singer put it:

“To challenge my students to think about the ethics of what we owe to people in need, I ask them to imagine that their route to the university takes them past a shallow pond. One morning, I say to them, you notice a child has fallen in and appears to be drowning. To wade in and pull the child out would be easy but it will mean that you get your clothes wet and muddy, and by the time you go home and change you will have missed your first class. I then ask the students: do you have any obligation to rescue the child? Unanimously, the students say they do. The importance of saving a child so far outweighs the cost of getting one’s clothes muddy and missing a class, that they refuse to consider it any kind of excuse for not saving the child.”

Back in February 2022, when Putin’s Russia launched its all-out war, Ukraine was arguably the drowning child and we were the passersby. Providing billions of dollars’ worth of military aid isn’t quite the same as muddying your clothes, but for a society as rich as America neither was it an exorbitant expense, especially as the vast majority, some 90 percent, of the money spent on Ukraine actually stayed in the United States, contributing to the American economy, providing jobs and stimulating investment.

Helping Ukraine was thus both self-interested and ethically right. That Russia had violated a raft of international laws in launching its war made assisting Ukraine easier, inasmuch as it provided the U.S. with a large number of partners equally desirous of saving the drowning child.

Here’s Singer: “Does it make a difference, I ask, that there are other people walking past the pond who would equally be able to rescue the child but are not doing so? No, the students reply, the fact that others are not doing what they ought to do is no reason why I should not do what I ought to do.” Unlike the other people walking past the pond, much of the international community joined in the effort to save Ukraine.

Fast forward to December 2023 and the distinct possibility that the Republican threat to cut aid to Ukraine could become reality. The situation today would be akin to the following scenario.

Like the good passerby, the United States saved the child in 2022. Almost two years later, America is holding the child that it saved and is walking past the pond. Should it continue carrying the child? After all, the child has put on some weight, it cries, it distracts us from our work. Or should it ease the burden by placing the child back into the pond, perhaps face up, in the hope that it won’t turn over and drown?

MAGA Republicans, like their mentor Donald Trump, are saying that, yes, sorry, Ukraine, you’ve become too much of a burden and, like it or not, we need to get rid of you. Two years ago, we saved you. But we can’t keep you alive forever. We won’t kill you, but, like the ancient Greeks, we’ll leave you where we found you and let the gods decide whether you’ll live or die.

Indifference to the fate of the child would have been unethical two years ago. Today it’s infinitely more criminal, as it involves the conscious choice to abandon a healthy child.

There’s no way to avoid the sad conclusion that MAGA Republicans are effectively, perhaps even consciously and willfully, supporting Ukraine’s destruction for the sake of ridding themselves of a minor inconvenience. And since Putin’s agenda in Ukraine is genocide and since the U.S. has been the key obstacle to his being able to achieve that goal, the GOP position is effectively, and tragically, supportive of genocide.

Alas, that makes MAGA Republicans as guilty of and responsible for Putin’s crimes as the overwhelmingly large number of Russians who consciously choose Ukraine’s destruction over Ukraine’s survival.


Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, as well as “Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires” and “Why Empires Reemerge: Imperial Collapse and Imperial Revival in Comparative Perspective.”