With 24 words Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis changed the strategic situation on the ground more than either the Russian or Ukrainian army has been able to do in months. By telling Fox News host Tucker Carlson that Ukraine was not a vital national interest of the U.S., and by dismissing the war in Ukraine as a territorial dispute, DeSantis not only struck a blow for Vladimir Putin, he answered a number of vital questions about the future of the war.
With the DeSantis statement, it is now clear that the four most important voices in the GOP advocate pulling back on U.S. support for Ukraine, a position which if acted upon would tip the balance of power in that war heavily in Russia’s favor.
With DeSantis, Trump, some of the leading personalities on Fox News, and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy all arguing the U.S. should focus elsewhere, there is now a clock running in Ukraine. Can Russia continue its long game indefinitely—and succeed? Observers of the war have been wondering just how long this can go. Now they know. It need only continue until January 20, 2025.
Furthermore, with both of the leading GOP candidates holding this view, a major disincentive has been created for Russia to negotiate with Ukraine in the interim. Why concede anything now when it is clear that Kyiv’s position could be much weaker in less than two years?
The fact that some in the GOP have been rightly critical of DeSantis’ irresponsible statement will not matter by next year’s elections. Even if there is a bipartisan majority on the Hill in support of Ukraine after the 2024 election, if the victor is either Trump or DeSantis, given the power of the executive branch in deciding U.S. foreign policy and national security decisions, that majority will be overruled by the one vote that comes from the Oval Office. At the same time, the GOP’s one-time claim on being a party that stood for a strong national defense and foreign policy expertise has been laid to rest. Indeed, they now appear to be anti-rule of law, anti-democracy, and pro-war criminal.
Is it possible that DeSantis was emulating Trump’s “Russia, if you’re listening” I’m here for you posture, and that he too wanted to ensure he had the support of Moscow in the coming campaign? Or was he just trying to pander to Putin’s mouthpieces at Fox News? We can only speculate.
But what is clear is that he was not acting in America’s national interest and he was seemingly not taking into consideration the potential ramifications his remarks might have on the ground. Make no mistake about it, the consequence of Russia playing for time in the way these developments suggest they should and likely will, countless Ukrainians will die, more of Ukraine will be destroyed and the security of Europe will be dramatically weakened.
DeSantis has little foreign policy experience. With his remarks, he should have disqualified himself with any portion of the electorate that truly cares about U.S. national security or that of our allies. But, given that his view is consistent with that of the man who is likely going to be his greatest opponent, and with the media organization that is likely to be most influential in the Republican primaries, DeSantis is probably won’t pay a price for his recklessness.
Certainly, in Kyiv, they were listening and understanding the consequences of what the Florida governor said. The clock is ticking. They must strike a decisive blow against Russia and turn the tide of the war measurably this year or they will have little choice but to wait for the 2024 decision of U.S. voters to determine their fate as a nation.
They now know that either Joe Biden wins or their sacrifices of the past 13 months will have been for nothing. They know that despite the comforting words of Republican codels visiting Kyiv, the leadership of the Republican Party is clearly from the Putin wing of the party. They also know that a new front has opened in their war, one that will extend across battleground states and will likely involve the active (if covert) participation of Moscow or its agents.
As important as the fighting may be in Bakhmut or the Donbas more broadly, as vital as it may be for them to make gains in the south of Ukraine, their fate will also turn on what happens in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Arizona, and Georgia.
They may finally have Western tanks. But Russia will have Trump, DeSantis, Tucker Carlson, and MAGA Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene on their side along this new front in these distant exotic-sounding battlefields.
DeSantis’ comments to Tucker Carlson amounted to a couple of phrases. But their potential impact may be as great as all the battalions Vladimir Putin has unleashed on his neighbor since he escalated his nearly decade old invasion last February.
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