The Heritage Foundation came under fire this week from a bunch of politically toxic neocons for suggesting we should prioritize helping Americans suffering from natural disasters like the Maui wildfires over funding a grinding war of attrition between Ukraine and Russia. A radical suggestion, I know.
The background here is that under the leadership of President Kevin Roberts, Heritage has been saved from irrelevance by focusing less on what establishment neocon Beltway elites think is important and more on what ordinary Americans actually want. And one of the things they want is for Congress to stop pouring taxpayer dollars into Ukraine.
In an op-ed last week, Roberts noted this as part of a pointed criticism of an underhanded White House plan to force another round of aid to Ukraine into a supplemental funding bill that would add money to FEMA’s depleted Disaster Relief Fund (DRF). Roberts rightly says this is a dirty trick designed to pressure Republicans to support more aid to Ukraine by tying it to aid for hurricane and wildfire victims.
Then this week, Heritage posted a couple of ads making the entirely fair point that every American has now sent more money to Ukraine than to the victims of the Maui fires. One of those ads argued that until the Biden administration comes up with a plan to end the war, Congress shouldn’t approve another cent of aid.
Reasonable people can disagree about how much support Americans owe the Ukrainians in their struggle against Russia. But even if one accepts that we should be supporting Ukraine to the hilt, it’s fair to ask what the plan is to end the war — and no, “until Russia is totally defeated” is not a serious response, much less a strategy. This war, like nearly all wars, will end with a negotiated political settlement. Since American taxpayers are funding the war, they deserve to know if our leaders have a plan to end it that doesn’t amount to World War III.
As the war drags on, it seems increasingly obvious they do not have such a plan. Their only policy seems to be to keep funneling money into Ukraine with little to no oversight and no strategy to forge a durable peace settlement.
But for Heritage to articulate all of this was too much for the neocons. As with one voice, they denounced Heritage and invoked Ronald Reagan, declaring that Reagan is surely “rolling over in his grave,” as both Marc Thiessen and Avik Roy put it. National Review’s Jay Nordlinger went a step further, pronouncing that the Heritage Foundation has become a “moral obscenity.”
Elsewhere at NR — which unlike Heritage has not managed to escape irrelevance — there was an unintentionally hilarious post from Dominic Pino critiquing Heritage’s position on U.S. aid to Ukraine. Pino managed to sum up the neocon worldview in a single line, noting that “not all the money goes to Ukrainians. Much of it goes to U.S. defense contractors, which employ Americans and contribute to U.S. economic output.”
Ah yes, there’s nothing like bankrolling foreign wars with no end-game strategy to get the American economy going. Defense contractors are Americans too! Think about it, the Ukraine war is a U.S. jobs program!
If any conservative of yore is rolling over in his grave about all this it’s William F. Buckley, whose once-great magazine apparently thinks that asking Congress to articulate realistic goals in Ukraine is somehow “morally obscene,” or that bankrolling foreign wars to the tune of $113 billion (and counting) amounts to an industrial policy.
Both Buckley and Reagan were a little more prudent than that about foreign policy, and were they alive today, they would likely be sounding the same notes about American aid to Ukraine as Roberts and Heritage are sounding now.
And in any case, America today is not what it was in the days of Buckley and Reagan. The Russo-Ukrainian War is not our very own 21st-century Cold War, and we can’t afford to treat it as such. (To the extent there’s a cold war out there, it’s with China, not Russia, and our ongoing enmeshment in the Ukraine conflict raises serious questions about whether we will be able, in our current state, to counter a CCP invasion of Taiwan.)
But for the neocons, who clearly resent the loss of their influence over institutions like Heritage, even the mild demand that we tie additional aid to Ukraine with some workable plan to bring peace and stability to the region is met with the most hyperbolic howls of outrage. That should tell you everything you need to know about what their priorities are and whose interests they really care about.