As ominous threats rise, the U.S. is mired in moronic, clownish politics

Opinion by George F. Will, The Washington Post, October 13, 2023.

Bilious rhetoric pours from members of Congress presiding over their dilapidated institution. Never has there been such a disjunction between the seriousness of the nation’s problems and the irresponsibility of its political class.

About the latter, look around. There is turmoil in the party that controls only one congressional chamber and cannot control itself. The unfolding presidential campaign is doing nothing to elucidate intelligent responses to two regional wars abroad and fiscal incontinence at home. About the nation’s peril, consider this:

“The United States now confronts graver threats to its security than it has in decades, perhaps ever. Never before has it faced four allied antagonists at the same time — Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran — whose collective nuclear arsenal could within a few years be nearly double the size of its own. Not since the Korean War has the United States had to contend with powerful military rivals in both Europe and Asia. And no one alive can remember a time when an adversary had as much economic, scientific, technological, and military power as China does today.”

That is from a Foreign Affairs article (“The Dysfunctional Superpower”) by one of the nation’s wisest foreign policy practitioners, former CIA director and former defense secretary Robert M. Gates. He knows military preparedness is jeopardized by Congress’s inability to perform its most basic function, budgeting. Since 2010, it has failed to pass defense appropriations bills before the next fiscal year begins. “Continuing resolutions” continue the planning difficulty.

The war Hamas launched against the United States’ most important Middle East ally underscores a lesson from Ukraine: War remains a matter of mass — artillery, armor, air support. And much of the U.S. defense industrial base has atrophied. This cannot be rectified quickly. One thing, however, can be.

Senate rules, which allow maximum individual latitude, presuppose minimal maturity. To protest a Defense Department policy pertaining to abortion, a caricature — Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who says the three branches of government are “the House, the Senate, and the executive” — is blocking confirmation of hundreds of senior military promotions. This, says Gates, is “making the United States a laughingstock among its adversaries.” The Senate should immediately end this moronic behavior. Senators should either change Tuberville’s unfurnished mind (“My dad fought 76 years ago in Europe to free Europe from socialism”) or change the rule he is abusing.

Russia’s attempted annihilation of Ukraine has become an attritional war. As Johns Hopkins University foreign policy scholar Hal Brands says, “The U.S. and its allies need to start equipping Ukraine now for operations in 2024 and after.” And they need to ponder this: “Without nuclear weapons and nuclear threats, Russia might well have lost the war by now.” China’s President Xi Jinping might believe that Vladimir Putin’s nuclear arsenal has made U.S. assistance to Ukraine timid and hesitant. Brands says:

“If Ukraine is a precedent for how America handles crises with nuclear-armed great powers, the U.S. is in big trouble in the Western Pacific. … It’s not clear why the U.S. would be more willing to risk nuclear war for Taiwan — another strategically important but distant democracy — than it was for Ukraine.”

All but one of the Republican presidential aspirants should stop tiptoeing around the crucial fact about the other one: Donald Trump is an unexampled threat to national security. He is unambiguously supporting Putin, as is a growing cohort of congressional Republicans who, by opposing material aid to Ukraine, are preparing to enable Trump to keep his promise to end the war “in 24 hours.” This would consign Ukraine to eventually losing the 82 percent of its territory that Putin has not yet seized.

As the world becomes more ominous, clownishness among Republican presidential aspirants — let’s attack Mexico! — becomes more insufferable. Ron DeSantis promises gas at $2 a gallon — cheaper in inflation-adjusted terms than when the price was 26 cents in 1948. At a July event, a crazed New Hampshirite told Vivek Ramaswamy that the Federal Reserve is “adding zeros to the bank accounts to the media or maybe your political opponents.” Ramaswamy’s response included this: “You’re correct to point out what very few people are aware of. Absolutely, that happens.”

In the world beyond Iowa and New Hampshire, events are turning and turning in a widening gyre. Chaos, the métier of the Republican front-runner, is rising. Last week, the world spun into a new level of dangerousness. This coming week, any Republican aspirant worthy of the office she or he seeks will at last forthrightly stand against Trump’s siren call of isolationism.

George F. Will writes a twice-weekly column on politics and domestic and foreign affairs. He began his column with The Post in 1974, and he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1977. His latest book, “American Happiness and Discontents,” was released in September 2021.

 Image Credits: Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock