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.