The Progressive Post

How the MAGA-right came to reject Ukraine

Senior Policy Analyst National Security and International Policy, Center for American Progress
Senior Fellow and Director of Global Progress, Center for American Progress
22/02/2024

With the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaching, it is important to acknowledge the remarkable resilience that the trans-Atlantic alliance has shown under Joe Biden’s leadership. However, severe threats from the far right are now putting that unity in jeopardy. In the United States, MAGA Republicans threaten to block critical aid to Ukraine. In Europe, the far-right openly expresses its affection for Vladimir Putin. Viktor Orbán’s resistance to EU support for Ukraine highlights that the illiberal right on both sides of the Atlantic is veering toward a dangerous isolationism.

Ever since the United States committed to ensuring the security of Europe under the Truman Doctrine, America has been a cornerstone of peace and stability for its partners and allies across the Atlantic. Over the decades, Democrats and Republicans have shared a core belief that mutual political and security support between the US and its allies fundamentally serves American interests. To abandon Ukraine now would upend this doctrine, jeopardising not only the immediate stability of the region but also the credibility of the United States as a reliable ally.

The rise of the MAGA-right (‘Make America great again’) has prompted the Republican Party to reevaluate its foreign policy priorities, particularly concerning Ukraine. As a result, some Republicans in Congress with a track record of supporting internationalism and democracy abroad – like Senator Mitt Romney (Utah) or Senator Joni Ernst (Iowa), a former US Army Reservist – now find themselves at odds with the increasing far-right, inward-looking politics in their party.

This once-in-a-generation realignment of the Republican Party is best embodied by former President Donald Trump. His tenure was marked by an unorthodox approach to foreign policy, which often involved intimate interactions with autocratic leaders, including Russia’s President Putin. At best, Trump and his congressional supporters have viewed alliance relationships and agreements as transactional. At worst, they have seen them as a burden to be offloaded. Consider recent remarks by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a one-time stalwart supporter of Ukraine who now suggests that any further financial support for Kyiv should be issued in the form of loans.

In MAGA-land, everything is reduced to a zero-sum game. This cynical view of global politics is complemented by an even bleaker view of the American homeland, described by Trump as ‘American carnage‘. They perceive decay everywhere and criticise an international system that, in their view, favours distant global elites over ordinary Americans – a point Ohio Senator JD Vance took great pains to emphasise at this year’s Munich Security Conference. “We live in a world of scarcity,” he repeatedly told his interlocutor, asserting that American interests must always come first.

Vance is mistaken. America first should not mean America alone. Trans-Atlantic cooperation through bolstering NATO, supporting Ukraine against Russia, and focusing on strategic competition with China aligns with core American interests. We are stronger when we act together.

Yet there are those who would rather America retreat. The tentacles of far-right exceptionalism are advancing across the United States and Europe, characterised by a sovereignty discourse steeped in anti-globalist tropes. For them, Ukraine barely registers as a concern. Their ideology is rapidly evolving into a global movement, with its network of thinkers and leaders like Orbán presenting themselves as the beleaguered saviours of their nations. Strong, sovereign, and unbound before the Washington and Brussels blob, Orbán and his ilk rail against so-called open borders and faceless European technocrats. Here they ask: Why does Ukraine deserve support while our own citizens face hardships?

To counter the spread of this dangerous rhetoric, Progressives and Social Democrat leaders on both sides of the Atlantic must advocate for and adhere to a more equitable, rule-based international order that champions trans-Atlantic cooperation. They must compellingly show constituents the real-world advantages of such a strategy, connecting the dots between democracy and security on the one hand and economic prosperity and resilience on the other. History has proven that the rule-based international order delivers conditions for growth, but far too many in our societies have been left behind. Governments must work to address their needs. 

As for Ukraine, the United States must remain steadfast in its support for its ally and resist the inward-turning impulses of the MAGA-right. In parallel, it is imperative for European NATO members to uphold their commitment to allocate 2 per cent of their GDP toward bolstering Biden’s vision of trans-Atlantic unity proactively, rather than as a reactionary measure to US political discourse. Furthermore, leaders like German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President Biden must persist in championing the principles of liberal democracy and internationalism at home, standing firm against the rising tide of isolationism and authoritarianism that threatens to divide our Western alliance.
The stakes could not be higher. Ukraine is in urgent need of ammunition and artillery shells, and resilient political support from the West. Should Ukraine succumb – or more accurately, be abandoned in her greatest hour of need – the failure will be more than moral. It will be strategic. Other autocracies around the world, including China, will surely take note.

Photo credits: Shutterstock.com/Gins Ivuskans

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