March 15, 2023

DeSantis on Ukraine

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently responded to a questionnaire from Fox News host Tucker Carlson about Ukraine. ‘While the U.S. has many vital national interests... becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them,’ DeSantis said in his reply… ‘The Biden administration’s virtual 'blank check' funding of this conflict for 'as long as it takes,' without any defined objectives or accountability, distracts from our country’s most pressing challenges.’” Reuters

Read DeSantis’s full response here. Twitter

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From the Left

The left criticizes Desantis’s statement, and accuses him of hypocrisy given his past support for Ukraine.

“[This] was everything that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his admirers could have wished for from a presumptive candidate for president. The governor began by listing America’s ‘vital interests’ in a way that explicitly excluded NATO and the defense of Europe. He accepted the present Russian line that Putin’s occupation of Ukraine is a mere ‘territorial dispute.’ He endorsed ‘peace’ as the objective without regard to the terms of that peace, another pro-Russian talking point…

“He conceded the Russian argument that American aid to Ukraine amounts to direct involvement in the conflict. He endorsed and propagated the fantasy… that the Biden administration is somehow plotting ‘regime change’ in Moscow. He denounced as futile the economic embargo against Russia—and baselessly insinuated that Ukraine is squandering U.S. financial assistance.”

David Frum, The Atlantic

“‘The Biden administration’s virtual ‘blank check’ funding of this conflict for ‘as long as it takes,’ without any defined objectives or accountability, distracts from our country’s most pressing challenges,’ writes DeSantis. Biden’s support for Ukraine has, in fact, has been limited in both its scope and its particulars (the administration has denied Kyiv numerous weapons systems)…

“‘Our citizens are also entitled to know how the billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are being utilized in Ukraine,’ he writes. Of course nobody denies that Americans have a right to know how aid to Ukraine is being spent. That information is, in fact, available. By implying that somehow the information is being hidden, or perhaps that the government is lying, DeSantis is encouraging suspicions on the right for which he is supplying no evidence…

“Supporters of Ukraine’s independence can console themselves with some good news. First, because DeSantis adopted this position so recently, it is a transparent matter of pandering that he might well walk back if elected. And second, despite all his signals of disinterest in deterring Russia, DeSantis did not call for an immediate end to military assistance, giving himself a little bit of wiggle room. But the downside is that his signals will be heard loud and clear in Moscow, where Carlson’s commentary is a regular feature of state television. Putin now has every reason to believe he simply needs to hang on until the Republicans take office again.”

Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine

“DeSantis’s comments were at odds with his own words and actions when he was a congressman from Florida. In 2014, DeSantis voted for an aid package for Ukraine and backed a 2015 resolution that called on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine while authorizing security assistance for Kyiv…
“He advocated for a ‘Reaganist’ foreign policy stance in a 2016 interview with Fox News’s Lou Dobbs, criticizing President Barack Obama for what he called a lackluster response to Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. ​​‘If we had a policy which was firm, which armed Ukraine with defensive and offensive weapons so that they could defend themselves, I think Putin would make different calculations,’ DeSantis said.”

Leo Sands, John Wagner, Dan Lamothe and Meryl Kornfield, Washington Post

From the Right

The right is divided about DeSantis’s statement and notes that policies often change after the campaign is over.

The right is divided about DeSantis’s statement and notes that policies often change after the campaign is over.

“Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is a ‘dispute’ over territory in the same way a bank robber and depositor have a ‘dispute’ over money. This statement establishes equivalencies between invader and invaded that do not exist. DeSantis may struggle, as any honest broker would, to explain why the hypothetical prospect of a Chinese land grab in the Pacific is of more immediate urgency than the ongoing Russian land grab in a state that borders U.S. allies with whom we have defense pacts…

“DeSantis will be made to explain himself more than once, and he might find it difficult to articulate both his theory of the case and why he’s had such a profound change of heart since his tenure in Congress. In 2016, DeSantis voted in favor of a handful of bills designed to provide Ukraine with more defensive and intelligence-gathering capabilities than the Obama administration was comfortable with. He will have to articulate a compelling conversion narrative — assuming one exists beyond his immediate political imperative of getting on the good side of the Right’s more nationalistic voters.”

Noah Rothman, National Review

Others argue, “DeSantis's answers to the Carlson questions fall into the broad middle of American views on U.S. support for Ukraine… By stating that peace should be the objective, DeSantis is indicating that, as president, he would pressure Ukraine and Russia to hold negotiations. By earlier characterizing the war as a ‘territorial dispute,’ the reader can also assume that in those negotiations, a President DeSantis would want Ukraine to make some territorial concessions…

“DeSantis's opposition to what he calls President Joe Biden's ‘blank check’ policy and the president's ‘as long as it takes’ commitment is another way of stressing the position, common among Republicans, that U.S. aid to Ukraine should be subject to limits. Perhaps those limits might extend to a significant amount of military aid, but in the end, there are limits…

“What to make of DeSantis's answers? Has he taken Putin's side against America? Has he moved to the extremes, the crazy fringes, of the Ukraine debate? No, he hasn't. There is a range of opinion on what the U.S. should do in the Ukraine matter, and DeSantis occupies an entirely legitimate position, no matter what his more excitable critics might say.”

Byron York, Washington Examiner

“As we watch the governor attempt to finesse a thorny foreign-policy issue by way of bromides, we probably ought to remember that a presidential candidate’s foreign-policy vision and the actual policies enacted by his administration are often no more than distant cousins… Every foreign policy challenge looks easier during a cable news interview than it does when you’re sitting behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, when lives are at risk….

“Presidential candidates are usually just trying to come up with something that sounds good and ‘tough’ during a debate or television interview. But once in office, getting that presidential daily briefing, every foreign-policy challenge suddenly looks a lot more complicated. What DeSantis says now may not tell us all that much of what he would do as president.”

Jim Geraghty, National Review

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