The Russian invasion of Ukraine has brought Republican neocons out of the woodwork, agitating for escalation and U.S. military involvement. The same people who brought us the Iraq War and a 20-year occupation of Afghanistan that ended last year in an ignominious and chaotic U.S. withdrawal would now like us to go to war with Russia, a nuclear power, over Ukraine.
Why? Partly because they’re reacting emotionally to the war, which is understandable up to a point. But mostly they would like to leverage a military conflict with Russia to regain control of the Republican Party, whose voters have become deeply disillusioned with foreign interventions — and with the neocons who peddled them to the American people.
Just consider who’s calling for escalation with Russia. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a NeverTrump hack who has spent the last few days posting misinformation about the war on Twitter, over the weekend called for the United States to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
Somehow, the analysis of people like Kinzinger never gets past the part where we shoot down a Russian MiG-29. But of course a no-fly zone would mean just that: The U.S. would have to shoot down Russian warplanes, and Russian warplanes would very likely do the same to us. We would be in a shooting war with Russia before the no-fly zone was even established.
To his credit, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., flatly rejected the idea, saying, “that would mean World War III.” Even the Biden White House, which rarely misses the chance to fall for a bad idea, dismissed Kinzinger’s insane notion, calling it “not a good idea.”
But it’s not just nobody Republicans like Kinzinger saying this stuff. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., also endorsed the idea of creating a no-fly zone over Ukraine. “Clearly, in the absence of a U.N. resolution, which Russia would veto, a strong coalition of like-minded nations should step in and seriously consider this,” Wicker told HuffPost on Monday. Wicker isn’t some back-bencher. He’ll likely become the next top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee after Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., resigns later this year.
Joining Wicker in this loose talk is former NATO supreme commander and retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, who also called for a no-fly zone in Ukraine.
The no-fly zone isn’t the only terrible idea being bandied about by establishment Republicans and former generals. On Sunday, Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Meet The Press that we should right away bring Ukraine and other countries, like Georgia, into NATO. Bringing Ukraine into NATO, a mutual defense treaty, would of course trigger Article V, which obligates all NATO members to come to the defense of a member that’s under attack. In this case, that would mean — you guessed it — the U.S. going to war with Russia.
That would be the best-case scenario for Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on the West for arms and aid, and asked NATO to “close the skies.” And while it’s perfectly understandable why Zelensky would want a no-fly zone over his country, or NATO troops to attack Russian forces inside Ukraine, it doesn’t make sense for the U.S. to entertain the idea, or even for U.S. politicians and former generals to talk about it seriously in public.
Unless, that is, these politicians see an opportunity, which some of them no doubt do. If the last five or six years have revealed anything about American politics, it’s that the Republican Party is no longer controlled by the neocon establishment. Donald Trump wrested the party from the neocons, and he did so partly by insisting during the 2016 primaries that the GOP have an honest reckoning about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
No other candidate (besides Sen. Rand Paul) wanted to talk about that, because none of them wanted to criticize George W. Bush or admit that going to war in the Middle East in the vain hope of spreading democracy was in retrospect a horrible idea. But Trump forced the issue, to his credit, and won the nomination partly on that basis. It was something Republican voters wanted and needed; confronting the folly of those wars was the only way to move forward as a party.
But now the neocons are back, if only for a moment, and they’d like you to consider the idea that we shoot down some Russian warplanes, or annex Ukraine into NATO, or do any number of other reckless and provocative things to get us into a war with Russia. Also, they would like to be the ones to lead this effort.
Understand that these aren’t just stupid ideas from small-minded people, it’s part of a larger, desperate bid for relevance, a last-ditch attempt to regain influence in the GOP — influence that these people long ago squandered, and should never get back.