United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered the keynote address at the Claremont Institute's 40th Anniversary Gala as this year's recipient of the Institute's Statesmanship Award.
No Cost too High for Ukraine
Mike Pence represents a stubborn and persistent neoconservative tendency that prioritizes globalist concerns.
A recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by former vice president, and 2024 presidential hopeful, Mike Pence claims that the best way to end the war in Ukraine is for the United States to provide more, and deadlier, weaponry to Kiev. Foregoing a diplomatic solution to the crisis, he argues that only by unreservedly meeting every Ukrainian demand for tanks, jets, and artillery can the bloodshed be definitively ended. Pence reaffirmed his commitment to total Russian defeat in a much-viewed clip of Tucker Carlson confronting the former VP’s hawkishness at a GOP presidential forum in Iowa several weeks ago.
This proposal would require a commitment to destroying the conventional military capabilities of the Russian Federation, with the almost inevitable consequence of a spiral into nuclear war. Pence states that Kiev must be provided the means of recapturing all of the territory that Moscow has occupied over the past several decades. That would include the breakaway eastern oblasts of Lugansk and Donetsk (known as the Donbass region) that have been fighting a separatist war since 2014, as well as the newest territory seized in Zaporizhzhia and Kherson since the beginning of the current operation in 2022. All four regions have subsequently been annexed by Moscow. Even more importantly, Pence’s proposal ostensibly includes Crimea.
A negotiated peace settlement could see large parts of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson reincorporated into Ukraine with relatively little pain; however, the largely pro-Russia Lugansk and Donetsk, both with significant ethnic Russian populations, will never submit to Kiev’s rule without massive repression. “Russian sympathizers” in these areas constitute the bulk of the population, and could very well precipitate a humanitarian crisis as anger and a desire for revenge became intermingled with the attempt to reestablish political control; Crimea even more so.
Irredentists who support Kiev’s right to regain its territory and crush its “traitors” must give pause at the geopolitical reality of Putin’s control of Russia, which as Pence acknowledges, would not survive such a move. In the face of impending defeat, Putin would likely mobilize to full-scale war against Ukraine, including the use of tactical nuclear weapons with the inevitable likelihood of further escalation with the West. All the more so considering that it is U.S. materiel enabling such a situation.
Pence is also correct that Kiev is at present losing the war. However, he is wrong to claim that the sole factor in the fight is the Ukrainian military’s lack of access to Western arms and munitions. Russia can draw from a much larger pool of human capital; it has effectively confronted Western arms; its armed forces have adapted after initial defeats and its performance is steadily improving; it is effectively destroying much-hyped Western equipment provided to Ukraine; and its industrial capacity is much larger as its production increasingly comes in line with the country’s war footing.
Even if Ukraine were to recapture all of the territory currently occupied by Russia, it would not create the conditions for a lasting peace. Providing the country with an indefinite amount of the highest quality conventional military technology will do nothing to address the Russian security concerns that directly contributed to the war’s initiation. It will not change the long and complicated history between Kiev and Moscow. And it will certainly not stop the ongoing bloodshed. As casualties mount amid the sputtering counteroffensive, a real solution requires an honest appraisal of events.
The voices for escalation rising from Washington and other elite centers contend that we are facing the same question vis-à-vis Russia that Ronald Reagan faced 40 years ago when he pursued the Reagan Doctrine of rolling back Soviet expansionism. This is false. Russia does not present the United States with a peer competitor that seeks to spread its political control ever-westward and has the stated end of overturning every world government as a central premise of its very existence. Despite the Founders’ warnings of foreign entanglements and permanent alliances, the confrontation with world communism—and Reagan’s approach to that confrontation—could at least be argued as fulfilling the duties of government, protecting its citizens from foreign subversion and thus protecting their Natural Rights from impending infringement.
Mike Pence appears to be claiming political ground as the safe Bush-era conservative in the run up to 2024, hoping to appeal to the sort of Boomerish conservatives who look to the Wall Street Journal editorial page as their guiding light. Even after years of failed foreign policy adventurism on behalf of “democracy” around the world, many claiming the title of “conservative” hold fast to this interventionist model. The fact remains that the Journal is an important institution with powerful clout in Republican politics. And if the Pence campaign were to collapse completely, and he left the race early, there’s no doubt some other member of the field would pick up the shopworn standard of endless war wherever he left it.
Pence says that if any country is willing to fight “America’s enemies,” then the “U.S. should give [them] the means to fight so our servicemen and women don’t have to.” But how, and who, do we define as “America’s enemies”? The former vice president claims that “freedom is America’s fight,” so ostensibly anyone who obstructs liberal freedom is our enemy. But freedom is increasingly being exposed as a twisted and perverted form of that which we were originally promised. The enemies of America that infringe on this true liberty are, for us, much closer to home than the halls of the Kremlin.
But even the conventionally conservative view regarding Ukraine—that the cause is just, but the costs are too high—is a screen for the regime and its thirst for war. Pence’s conclusion that “Only Weapons Can End the Ukraine War” is wrong because of its poor understanding of the ongoing conflict. But more than that, its very treatment of the “end of the Ukraine War” is a departure from what principled American conservatism should actually be. The latter is not simply a matter of economic prudence, as Pence suggests when he tries to assuage the pecuniary concerns of his “fellow fiscal conservatives” in providing unlimited funding for Kiev. The end of the Ukraine War should be pursued not as a means, but as an end in itself.
Not least because of the destruction of life and property for both Ukrainians and Russians. Nor only because of the potential threat to American lives that would accompany escalation. But also because we fundamentally reject the premises upon which the liberal international empire is waging its proxy war. We don’t even need to see the price tag.
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