Let the Dead Consensus Die
National Review comes out against the American interest.
Struggling Americans must foot the $40 billion bill to fight the Russians to the last Ukrainian, for that is the price of freedom. Or so the editors of National Review argue in their subtly titled statement: “Senate Was Right to Pass Ukraine-Aid Bill.”
Never mind that the total amount of aid provided by the U.S. to Ukraine just three months into the conflict “nearly equals the budget of the U.S. State Department.” Still, according to National Review, forking over billions of dollars Americans don’t have is “unquestionably” in our interest because Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “war of aggression,” if successful, would put him “in a better position to threaten NATO countries.” And that, the editors argue, “would necessitate an even larger NATO military build-up in response.”
Of course, National Review doesn’t want America’s footprint in Europe to shrink at all. Thus, though the language seems benign, this is more of a veiled threat: Americans can heed their betters in the Beltway and go along quietly, or they’ll be forced to later for their disobedience. But this is little more than an attempt to save the ideological liberalism that informs our foreign policy consensus long after it has proven obsolete and harmful to the American interest.
A closer look at the editors’ arguments finds them wanting, mostly due to their contradictions.
If they were truly concerned with escalatory build-up from NATO, the editors would have the honesty to recognize it’s already happening and not because of those calling for restraint. NATO expansionism proceeds apace thanks to the liberal interventionists whom National Review enables by supporting continued U.S. involvement in Ukraine. It is they, not the anti-interventionists, who are to blame.
“In the worst case, Putin could precipitate a wider war,” they write. “In that scenario, the gargantuan fiscal cost would be the least of our problems.” But does Putin realistically have ambitions to invade current NATO countries, with their Article 5 security guarantees that place them under the American nuclear umbrella? It’s unlikely.
First, from an ideological perspective, Putin would have to expand the conception of pan-Slavic nationalism that undergirds his thinking to the point that it would essentially become inoperative. He has sketched its boundaries in the past.
In an article written by the Russian president in July 2021, Putin argued that “Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe. Slavic and other tribes across the vast territory—from Ladoga, Novgorod, and Pskov to Kiev and Chernigov—were bound together by one language (which we now refer to as Old Russian), economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and—after the baptism of Rus—the Orthodox faith.”
Putin does not suggest that his nationalist vision for Russia encompasses the Baltic states, Romania, or other nations that National Review’s editors believe are next if Ukraine falls.
Second, there are practical reasons that indicate Putin is not poised to make a move on NATO countries. Simply put, this campaign has not gone according to plan for the Russians. The fact that Russia could not take Kiev should prove that it does not have a conventional military force capable of marching on Warsaw or Bucharest. National Review is aware of this because it has celebrated the Ukrainian resolve and ridiculed Russia’s poor performance. Thus, we are supposed to believe that Russia is at once a military laughingstock and capable of word domination. Which is it?
The editors also mock those no-good populists who oppose the regime’s latest proxy war because they worry that it deprioritizes domestic issues, like the crisis at the southern border, sky-high inflation, and starving babies, just to name a few. “We could have provided zero aid to Ukraine and watched Russia roll over it, and the baby-formula shortage and the border crisis would still be with us,” they argue. “Biden is failing in these areas because of his incompetence or misbegotten ideological preferences, not because we are sending too many Javelins to Kyiv.”
But they are guilty of the same error of which they accuse Biden. Its own “misbegotten ideological preferences” have rendered it obstinate and intransigent, incapable of recognizing the contradiction in its position: Biden is failing domestically because he is incompetent, but Americans must enable his foreign policy with their money and, possibly, their lives.
In the end, the magazine only proves that it is ideologically frozen in the Cold War era that conceived it and for which it still pines. It sees in the current conflict one last opportunity for a return to its glory days and a chance to strike at the populists who have stolen its thunder in recent years.
Just as support for Ukraine has become a way for liberals to exact delayed punishment on Russia for supposedly helping Trump steal the 2016 election, the editors of National Review see the war in Ukraine as a way to punish the Trump movement for seeking to move us beyond the dead consensus. No surprise that they want to drag us back to the before times. It is where they, like President Biden, feel most comfortable.
But as much as the editors would like to revive and reanimate that consensus, even legacy institutions on the right, like the Heritage Foundation, have denounced the aid package as “America Last.” In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts wrote that the package was “shoved through Congress not to invite debate but to preclude it; not to reflect popular consensus, but to thwart it.”
It seems the only thing National Review “stands athwart” these days is the American interest.
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