The Case for Supporting Ukraine Is Strong. But the Biden Administration Isn’t Making It

President Biden has poorly explained why supporting Ukraine is in America’s interests. There are better arguments to make.

February 9, 2023

Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine is nearing its first anniversary, and the United States should be proud that our support has empowered Kyiv to push back against the Kremlin. But the Biden administration still has not clearly articulated why continued American leadership is needed and why the only acceptable outcome is victory for Ukraine. As a result, after one year of fighting, and as we face domestic issues such as inflation, crime, and an open southern border, the American people are asking questions about U.S. support for Ukraine. This is understandable. There is, however, a persuasive case for continued American aid to Ukraine. But we have to make that case.

Public diplomacy starts at home. A few weeks before Secretary of State George Marshall went to Harvard to unveil the Marshall Plan in June 1947, his deputy, Dean Acheson, made a speech of his own in my home state of Mississippi. Acheson recognized that it was not just the Harvard faculty club whose opinion mattered — William F. Buckley’s first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book would also have a say.

At Delta State University, Acheson argued that American engagement in Europe was “necessary for our national security.” In 1984, President Reagan made a similar point in Gulfport, Miss., at the height of the Cold War. He pointed out the need to strengthen our defense-industrial base, naval fleet, and ammunition stocks, saying, we can “never again allow America to let her guard down.”

President Biden has not acted or spoken with the same strength and candor. Before February 24, 2022, he suggested that Russia might get away with “minor incursions” into Ukraine. The messaging most Americans heard from the White House last summer was “Putin’s price hike” — an attempt to dismiss concerns about the president’s failed energy policies. Instead of the president, Congress has led the charge at every step, both in explaining this effort to the American people and in provisioning Ukraine.

The administration’s recent timidity in providing Ukraine with a handful of tanks allowed Europeans to hide behind the U.S. for months, rather than provide Ukraine what it needs in time to make a difference for the coming spring offensive. That hesitation was in keeping with endless debates we have seen about equipment like HIMARS and drones. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians are fighting courageously, but with one hand tied behind their backs.

Recently, I took to the Senate floor to make the case for more, better, and faster advanced weapons deliveries to Ukraine. I offered four clear reasons why continuing to support Ukraine is in America’s national interest. The argument needs to be based on more than vague appeals to the rules-based international order, which persuade few outside the Beltway.

First, Ukraine matters to the United States because the security of Europe is closely tied to our own security and prosperity. When Vladimir Putin says that he seeks the “collapse of Western hegemony,” he means the power of the U.S. and of our allies.

Second, this is a good investment for us. Reporting indicates that the U.S. contribution to Ukraine as a percent of our own GDP so far has been less than that of Canada, the United Kingdom, and every Baltic country, at a clip of just 0.2 percent. The result of these relatively modest investments is that Russia’s military is significantly weakened and Moscow can no longer carry out a near-term invasion of any nation in the NATO alliance. Further, 40 percent of U.S. aid for Ukraine, or about $44 billion, is being spent here at home on our defense-industrial base and readiness.

Third, the United States is leading a transformation in Europe’s security architecture that will make it far less likely that American service members will be put in danger in the future. For years, American force planners have agonized over hard choices about how to assist in Europe’s defenses. These choices have been made all the more challenging as a result of the “free rider” problem in NATO defense spending. With our allies committing to rearming, we may soon see that dilemma in our strategy for the European continent subside.

Fourth, victory in Ukraine will help deter the Chinese Communist Party in the Indo-Pacific. General Secretary Xi Jinping is watching the other side of Eurasia closely, with an eye toward Taiwan. As Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida has stated, “Ukraine may be the East Asia of tomorrow.” Last month, our allies in Tokyo committed to double their defense spending as a percent of GDP to 2 percent.

Beyond those key reasons, it is important to understand that a long war for Ukraine would cost even more and favors Putin. Providing Ukraine with needed arms, including ATACMS, long-range missiles, and advanced drones like the Grey Eagle and Reaper could tip the balance in their favor and diminish the odds of a protracted conflict by better positioning Kyiv to end the war on the right terms.

As we consider additional support, political leaders also owe the American people oversight of how their hard-earned taxpayer dollars are being spent. Twenty reviews of Ukraine assistance have been completed, with another 64 reviews ongoing or planned. As ranking member on the Senate Armed Services committee, I will continue that oversight.

American support for Ukraine should not be taken for granted, in Kyiv or in Washington. It will be earned by legislators who persuade voters at civic clubs, at churches and faith institutions, and in conversations at local grocery stores, face to face. I will continue to have those tough discussions in Tupelo, Olive Branch, Jackson, Gulfport, and everywhere in-between. I invite my colleagues in Congress and in the administration to do the same across the country. The American people deserve no less.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

This op-ed originally appeared in National Review. Read it here.