A Hill To Die On

There’s no connection between the conflict in Ukraine and America’s southern border.

Either it’s in America’s interests to keep Volodymyr Zelensky in the fight against Vladimir Putin’s clumsy war machine or it isn’t and if it is, money earmarked for that purpose shouldn’t be contingent on anything to do with immigration from South America.

When you put it that way (i.e., when you strip out the red herrings), it seems pretty straightforward. But if you’re Mike Johnson, “the battle is for the border,” as he put it, during a press conference this week just minutes after telling House Republicans that border policy is the “hill to die on.” (Johnson, who played a role in trying to overturn the 2020 election, was among the 139 House GOPers who voted to sustain one or more objections to state results on January 6, 2021, a day when the Capitol became a literal hill to die on.)

The White House wants more than $60 billion in new funding for Ukraine. Absent congressional action, the US may run out of money to assist Kyiv by the end of the year. Zelensky is funneling a majority of the nation’s tax money into defense, which means Ukraine needs external financial assistance to fund critical services, including health care provision.

Earlier this week, Janet Yellen offered a stark warning for Congress. “We can hold ourselves responsible for Ukraine’s defeat if we don’t manage to get this funding [passed],” she said, on her way to (ironically in this context) Mexico City.

Zelensky was supposed to address a closed-door Senate briefing on Tuesday, but ultimately canceled. He’ll be forgiven. He’s seen enough bloody combat lately without having to witness knife fights between US lawmakers. “Nobody stabbed anybody, but it was close,” Republican John Kennedy said, of the Tuesday afternoon briefing during which one senator reportedly screamed at a Pentagon official. Antony Blinken was there. So was Lloyd Austin.

As ever, it’s unclear if any legislation that comes out of the Senate could make it through the House, where the newly-elected Johnson is keen to preserve his hard-right bona fides. Johnson voted against aid for Kyiv three months ago but during a late-October interview with Sean Hannity acknowledged that it’d be dangerous to let Russia overrun Ukraine. “We can’t allow Vladimir Putin to prevail, because I don’t believe it would stop there,” he said, adding that although the US can’t abandon Ukraine, Republicans “have a stewardship responsibility over the precious treasure of the American people.”

By “precious treasure” Johnson presumably meant dollars, which he seems to believe are unearthed from a mine somewhere, as opposed to conjured at will by… well, in part by the chamber over which he now presides. “What is the objective?” he wondered this week, of more aid to Zelensky. “What is the endgame in Ukraine?” For his part, Mitch McConnell said GOP senators should oppose Biden’s aid package in an effort to prove how “serious” the party is about border security — US border security. “Now is the time to pay attention to our own border,” McConnell declared.

I don’t necessarily disagree. But, again, there’s no connection between these two issues, and anyone (Joe Biden included) who tries to extract concessions on one by tying them together deserves some of the blame for the impasse. Both are existential in their own way, both are contentious, both admit of no easy fixes and the surest path to ruin when confronted with intractable crises is to make solving one contingent on solving the other.

This is precisely what I meant in “Perfect Storm, Imperfect Union” when I wrote that “in its current enfeebled state, America is in no condition” to grapple with “overlapping existential crises, including… the threat of great power wars and mass migrations.” Note that some House GOPers have indicated they won’t support more aid to Ukraine even if it’s paired with a veritable wishlist of Republican border priorities.

Chuck Schumer called the war in Ukraine “a turning point in Western civilization.” Jake Sullivan tried to impress upon House lawmakers the gravity of the situation, but some in the GOP’s far-right flank aren’t convinced.

The Kremlin’s efforts in 2016 and beyond to splinter American society by perpetuating the culture wars and grievance politics in the US are bearing fruit. A bitterly divided America is reflected in legislative paralysis, and that paralysis now threatens to starve Kyiv of the financial assistance that’s helped stymie Russia’s military. That’s not a happy coincidence for Putin. It’s by design.

Speaking of Putin, he took a brief tour of the Mideast this week. Autocrats are always welcome there. The Kremlin, in the “events” section of its official website, posted a photo gallery of Putin wandering around in Abu Dhabi, shaking hands with a collection of robed royals. He was scheduled to fly to Saudi Arabia next for what was sure to be a cordial (and cartoonish) meeting with Mohammed Bin Salman. On Thursday, he’ll hang out with Ebrahim Raisi in Moscow.

You can write own “new world order” narratives. The truth is, Putin wants to make a show of traveling. He thinks freedom of movement and the fact that he’s still welcome in some jurisdictions proves something about the futility of arrest warrants and the ineffectiveness of Western sanctions and other efforts to ostracize Moscow. Maybe he’s right, but I’m not sure dragging Sergei Lavrov and a dozen subordinates to the desert for a day trip is the best use of time and resources in a world where video conferencing is pretty efficient.

Russia launched four-dozen Iranian kamikaze drones at Ukraine on Wednesday. Kyiv’s air defenses managed to intercept 41 of them.


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6 thoughts on “A Hill To Die On

  1. These GOP hacks are Putin’s perfect patsies. Ironic that in Putin’s Russia if they did what they did here on & after 1/6/21 they’d be in chains (or the ground); be careful what you wish for in supporting anti-democracy would-be despots…

  2. To be more than fair to the GOP, I think we Europeans need to step up our game. This is on our borders and we’ll be the first ones to suffer if Putin wins.

  3. The fact that we can’t decide what kind of humans we really are affirms your comment from earlier today, we’re doomed. Because half of us are desperate to keep additional Hispanic people from our shores, thereby ending affirmation of the American Dream, we will let one of the larger independent nations of Europe, and a major food supplier to the continent, be literally destroyed. The irony is, without millions more immigrants over the coming years, our labor force will be unable to sustain our desired economic growth. The thing is, our inability to make good choices as a nation absolutely guarantees that the world will succumb to climate change. We are already the biggest waster of resources on the planet, a position we must abandon sooner rather than later, whether we like it or not. Yet, we still don’t recognize that “zero carbon” is a silly goal. Even if achieved, that will only mean we have stopped making a bad situation worse, not that we have reduced the problem overall. I used to be an avid listener of Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers on NPR every Saturday. One day a caller asked why the brothers never recommended buying high millage cars to save gas. One of them said it was because we’re going to run out anyway so let’s get it over with and move on. Yeah, why drag out the inevitable?

    1. The other irony is that limiting immigration also contributes to inflation. Who is going to work in the service industry or build affordable housing?

      As to the retort from the Tappet Brothers, if we take that to the logical extreme, we might as well all participate in Jonestown part 2. Who’s bringing the Flavor Aid?

  4. Optimistically, Biden gives Senate Reps enough on border issues to pass aid package, then in the House a combination of Johnson’s flailing pragmatism and more gives gets the aid package passed there as well.

    1. GOP brought its can-kicking shoes today. Looks like they are going to milk this, at least until they can rev up the next govt shutdown. The election year game plan seems to be maximum uncertainty, chaos and complaining, while making sure nothing gets done in a timely fashion.

      But on a positive note, Putin doing more traveling is a fantastic thing. At the very least it improves his chances of falling out a window or taking a Prighozin plunge, or maybe he gets sloppy enough to run into some tainted food. It’s good to travel when you feel isolated and shunned, but even better when you have a traveling partner you like. Maybe Trump can join him before his schedule fills up with trial prep and finishing up his version of Fuhrerprinzip. He loves those deserts and would probably go just to fondle the glowing orb again.

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