‘America First’ is America at its worst

Our US Congressional Representative, Greg Steube, was one of the 57 Republicans who voted against the $40 billion Ukrainian military aid package.

By the Washington Post  Editorial Board, May 14, 2022.

The history of U.S. foreign policy is, in part, a story of the ebb and flow of isolationist sentiment, sometimes elaborated into an ideology of “America First.” History also confirms that “America First” was America at its worst: the slogan of pre-World War II isolationists who urged the Roosevelt administration to avoid Europe’s troubles. The United States’ postwar rise to global responsibility marginalized such ideology — until Donald Trump rode to the White House in 2016 decrying the allegedly unfair costs of U.S. security commitments and trade agreements, then governed accordingly.

So it is no surprise that opposition to the Biden administration’s request for $40 billion in aid to Ukraine would re-emerge, mostly in Republican circles, or that the objections would boil down to “what’s in it for us?” The Democratic-led House of Representatives approved the assistance with a large bipartisan majority on Tuesday, but all 57 votes against it came from the GOP’s ranks. The measure is expected to pass the Senate; it is backed by the bulk of the GOP, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who made a surprise solidarity visit to Kyiv with three GOP colleagues on Saturday.

But Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), saying, “My oath of office is to the U.S. Constitution, not to any foreign nation,” slowed it with procedural obstacles. Mr. Paul suggests — hyperbolically — that spending less than 0.2 percent of U.S. output helping Ukraine will fuel inflation. “We cannot save Ukraine by dooming the U.S. economy,” he said. Blake Masters, a Republican Senate candidate in Arizona, says America’s leaders “are buffoons who hate you so … they’ll keep defending Ukraine’s borders while turning their backs on ours.”

To repeat, such claims tap a deep vein in public opinion, which is why Mr. Paul and other Republicans make them. Of course, our government’s first duty is to its own citizens. All the more reason to tell the America Firsters that security engagement abroad is not a zero-sum enterprise, but an investment in stabilizing situations that might otherwise spiral out of control, at much greater cost to the United States than, say, $40 billion. Russian aggression in Ukraine, which threatens not just that country but also the sanctity of international borders everywhere, represents such a situation. Not only is the U.S. investment comparatively modest, it is part of an effort to which NATO partners are also making significant contributions — and accepting what are in some cases painful sacrifices, especially by curtailing Russian energy imports. The probable applications of Finland and Sweden for NATO membership, along with Germany’s decision to ramp up defense spending, indicate that Europe is actually shouldering more of its own defense burden rather than free-riding off the United States. And that’s not to mention the burden — in combat — that Ukraine is bearing.

U.S. and NATO efforts are working. Russia’s war has stalled, as President Vladimir Putin backhandedly acknowledged by delivering a lackluster speech on Russia’s Victory Day on May 9. He could not credibly claim success or threaten escalation. Republican isolationist opposition to proposed aid for Ukraine, however, is music to Mr. Putin’s ears. It’s not too early to wonder — and worry — how much more powerful America Firsters will be if Republicans regain control of Congress in November.