By George F. Will

The Washington Post

April 24, 2024


Stoking the passion that is their excuse for pandering — the nihilism of a febrile minority in their party — a majority of House Republicans voted last Saturday to endanger civilization. Hoping to enhance their political security in their mostly safe seats, and for the infantile satisfaction of populist naughtiness (insulting a mostly fictitious “establishment”), they voted to assure Vladimir Putin’s attempt to erase a European nation.

The Republican Party was founded as a noble rejection of the most consequential bad thing Congress has ever done: the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, which authorized territories to vote slavery up or down, thereby valuing popular sovereignty more than liberty. On Saturday, the House voted 311-112 for $61 billion for Ukraine, with 112 ignoble House Republicans voting to condemn Ukraine to death, starved of such military basics as artillery shells. How many of the 112 know or care that more than half the $61 billion will fund restocking U.S. munitions inventories, as well as Ukraine’s purchases of U.S. weapons?

President Biden has been blameworthy for what is rightly disparaged as the “drip feed” of weapons to Ukraine. It is fair to say of him what Theodore Roosevelt said of President William Howard Taft: He “means well feebly.”

Tuesday’s Senate ratification of Ukrainian aid proves that Dwight Eisenhower’s baton of Republican internationalism was passed, via Ronald Reagan, to Mitch McConnell. They are the three most important Republicans of the past 100 years.

Congress’s support for Ukraine ranks with two other nation-defining congressional acts.

In March 1941, Congress approved Lend-Lease aid to Britain and others (235 Democrats and 24 Republicans yea, 25 Democrats and 135 Republicans nay). This “most unsordid act in the history of nations” (Winston Churchill) ended the facade of U.S. neutrality. By approving aid for Greece and Turkey in May 1947, Congress affirmed (161 Democrats and 126 Republicans yea, 13 Democrats and 93 Republicans nay) the Truman Doctrine: The United States would assist democratic nations threatened by authoritarians. World War II’s end would not revive isolationism.

In today’s Republican Party, dominated by someone who repudiates the internationalism to which Eisenhower committed the party seven decades ago, the cabal of grotesques might yet predominate.

It includes Missouri’s Sen. Josh Hawley, who thinks we have given “blank checks” to Ukraine (actually, 5 percent of defense spending, and less than half the monetary value of European support). Yet Hawley says we cannot defend both Ukraine and Taiwan, so this would be an excellent time to reduce the U.S. forces in Europe that are deterring Russia from aggressions

against NATO allies. Another grotesque, Ohio’s Sen. J.D. Vance, an itinerant Neville Chamberlain visiting green rooms, would welcome Ukraine’s death on the installment plan (see Czechoslovakia in 1938-1939). Georgia’s Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (she who wonders whether Jewish space lasers cause forest fires) expresses her loathing of Ukraine with lunatic accusations that confirm the judgment of Texas’s Rep. Michael McCaul (Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee) that Russian propaganda has “infected a good chunk of my party’s base.”

We have defined heroism so far down that it encompasses Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) allowing a House vote on assisting Ukrainians’ resistance to indiscriminate bombardments of population centers, ethnic cleansing, rape, torture and the abduction of children. Oleksandra Matviichuk, the Ukrainian winner of the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, adds: “One woman I interviewed had her eye extracted with a spoon.”

Heroism is not required of Ukraine’s NATO and other allies, whose combined GDPs are 20 times that of Russia. The cost of losing, by ill-conceived parsimony, this proxy war with a barbarian power possessing the world’s largest nuclear arsenal would be steep.

The Economist columnist Charlemagne says Ukraine’s defeat would be a “Suez moment” for the West. Meaning, a humbling demonstration of waning power. Two months ago, Estonian intelligence said: “Russians in their own thinking are calculating that military conflict with NATO is possible in the next decade.” Josep Borrell, the European Union’s chief diplomat, says: “A high-intensity, conventional war in Europe is no longer a fantasy.”

Today’s Moscow-Beijing-Tehran axis is, as the 1930s Axis was, watching. Johns Hopkins foreign policy analyst Hal Brands, writing for Bloomberg, reminds us: “Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 encouraged Hitler to send his military back into the Rhineland in 1936, just as Germany’s blitzkrieg through Western Europe in 1940 emboldened Japan to press into Southeast Asia.”

We can now see that the great unraveling that was World War II perhaps began with Japan’s 1931 invasion of Manchuria. Without the benefit of retrospection, we cannot be certain that World War III has not begun.


Opinion by George F. Will

George F. Will writes a twice-weekly column on politics and domestic and foreign affairs. He began his column with The Post in 1974, and he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977. His latest book, “American Happiness and Discontents,” was released in September 2021. Twitter