It’s Not About Putin: Two Conservatives Break Down the G.O.P. Split Over Ukraine

[MUSIC PLAYING]

jane coaston

I’m Jane Coaston. And this week on “The Argument,” I’ve rounded up two conservative writers to give us their take on Ukraine and how the Republican Party is reacting. Hello.

david french

Hey, Jane.

michael brendan dougherty

Hello.

jane coaston

How’s it going?

michael brendan dougherty

Good.

david french

Good.

jane coaston

Wow, that was good unison. I like that.

david french

Yeah.

jane coaston

Michael Brendan Dougherty is the Senior Editor at National Review. And David French is a Senior Editor at The Dispatch. David, how’s Tennessee?

david french

Beautiful today and six inches of snow over the weekend.

jane coaston

Yeah, that was very confusing for everyone I know in Eastern Tennessee. Michael, how are you?

michael brendan dougherty

I’m very good. Yeah, I want spring to kind of spring.

jane coaston

Yeah.

michael brendan dougherty

I don’t know. I’m very middle age now. I very much want to get into the garden, get into the yard, and start doing something.

david french

You’re not middle age.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

jane coaston

So you’ve both been on “The Argument” before, but obviously not with each other. And before we get into this conversation, I’d like to kind of preface this by talking about what types of conservative you both are. Because I think that for audiences who aren’t well-versed in conservative politics, there are as many conservatives as there are leaves on a tree. So, Michael, when we’re talking about your personal politics and your worldview on foreign policy, what’s your elevator pitch?

michael brendan dougherty

My elevator pitch is that to preserve republican form of government at home, you need a republican foreign policy abroad. And that is one of restraint. And so just generally I’ve been against the expansion of American commitments on the peripheries of the world order, because I think they embroil us in dangerous conflicts that threaten our way of life.

jane coaston

David, what’s your elevator pitch for your view on foreign policy and on conservatism?

david french

Yeah, well, I would be more what you would consider in the lingering remnants of the Reagan wing of American conservatism. In respect to foreign policy, that generally tends to mean support for our military alliances and a recognition that the great power of peace that we’ve enjoyed since 1945 is an artifact and a result of these American military alliances and these American foreign military deployments, and that we shrink from them, we retreat from them at our peril.

jane coaston

So the Republican Party’s current position — or to be accurate, positions — on the Russian invasion of Ukraine feel a little perplexing. And I want to be very careful here because occasionally there’s this thing that happens — and I believe that it was first Kevin Drum who used the term nutpicking —

david french

Yeah.

jane coaston

— which is that you find the craziest person you can find on your political opposite and you’re like, that’s it, that’s the position. The problem here is that some of the people who are saying crazy things are either members of Congress or extremely popular television hosts. But that does not represent the Republican votership writ large. So just to get started to understand the lay of the Republican land a little bit, David can you describe the splits you’re seeing right now within the G.O.P. on this issue?

david french

Well, you know, much like the Democratic party, there’s an online and an offline G.O.P. And I think that if your knowledge of the G.O.P. is gained by Twitter, then you’re going to be seriously distorted in your view of where the average Republican voter is.

So if you’re talking about your more offline Republican, there’s an enormous amount of support for Ukraine, enormous wave of condemnation against Russia. If you go into online world, you’re going to get conversations about biolabs. You’re going to hear some of the folks who maybe had been somewhat pro-Putin in the past, as Putin as a guy who takes a stand against the woke West, and are going to be what-abouting quite a bit.

They’re going to be saying, well, wait a minute, what if China tried to form a military alliance with Mexico? How would we feel about that? And so you’re going to have that kind of discourse online. So I think it’s really important to draw a distinction between these online worlds, which often circulate conspiracy theories or a lot of what-aboutism and moral equivalence, with an offline world that I think is not with that at all.

jane coaston

Michael, do you agree, disagree? Would you characterize it similarly?

michael brendan dougherty

I think David is in broad outlines right. I will volunteer to do some what-aboutism. I —

jane coaston

Hell, yeah.

michael brendan dougherty

And that’s not just confined to the online, right? I mean, there’s been a debate online about serious foreign policy scholars and minds, like John Mearsheimer, who have said exactly the sorts of things that David said. Well, what if — how would great powers react if another great power contracts an alliance right on their border? I don’t think that’s just what-aboutery, but I do think that you see gradations.

But in broad terms, I think the real argument that matters for policy has been between people basically aligned with where David is now and people basically aligned with where I am now about the direction of, quote unquote, “the liberal world order,” and Russia’s place in that liberal world order or outside of it and what that means for us. Can we have a stable situation in which Russia has no stake in the security of Europe itself or will an arrangement like that always lead to conflict with Russia to the point of wishing for regime change in Russia?

I think that can be a very unstable and dangerous situation for the world. But other people say that the current status quo is dangerous because look what’s happening in Ukraine. So I think that’s where the debate that matters to policy lies. And some of that leaks through online, because people like David and I are also online. We’re on Twitter.

david french

We’re both very online, Michael.

michael brendan dougherty

Yeah.

jane coaston

I want to actually ask about that, because you’ve seen North Carolina Congressman Madison Cawthorn saying that Ukraine is incredibly corrupt and pushing woke ideologies. And I thought that was such an interesting turn of phrase because that’s very much domestic American culture war talk that has nothing to do with the actually pretty conservative country of Ukraine or Russia.

And it feels like a moment of domestic culture war meeting an actual war. If this isn’t what you’re hearing from most Republican voters, who is this messaging for? Like who out there is like, ah, that woke Kyiv, I’ve always said that. Who talks like that?

david french

Well, there is an online ecosystem that does matter. When I say that the majority of people are not in this online ecosystem, that is not to say that the online ecosystem isn’t influential and that it isn’t disproportionately influential, in part, because that’s where right wing journalists spend all their time, that’s where right wing politicians spend a lot of their time — some of them. That’s certainly where their staffs spend their day scrolling through Twitter.

So there’s a way in which arguments that don’t have much purchase in the wider world really punch above their weight online. And I would say that the argument about Putin that has punched above its weight online is essentially this — that Putin and the combination of Putin and the Russian Orthodox church share my cultural grievances. We have the same enemies. And what are those enemies? Well, a West that is growing increasingly soft and feminized and Russia is more masculine and tough. And that Russia is rejecting the tide of growth of L.G.B.T. rights. And Russia, therefore, shares common cultural enemies.

jane coaston

I’ve noticed that there are also Republicans who are using this as an opportunity to fight against Trump-backed opponents. Pat McCrory, who’s a Republican Senate candidate in North Carolina, put out an attack ad against Ted Budd, who’s backed by Trump —

david french

Right.

jane coaston

— zeroing in on Budd describing Putin as a very intelligent actor with strategic reasons for invading. It’s very hard to talk about a foreign conflict through this domestic lens. It feels like putting a cat in the sink.

But does it signal — if not a rift between Trump and some Republicans, a rift between the people who are trying to be Trumpier than Trump and Republicans for the midterms in 2024?

david french

Yeah, this goes into some internal dynamics within the Republican Party, because there are people who have, within the G.O.P., especially at the grassroots, who are, in essence, forever Trumpers. I mean, they not only love the man, they love the way he does politics. They believe that he has successfully shifted the entire ethos of the Republican Party.

And then there’s a lot of people, far more than folks realize, that are, OK, I was for Trump as the Republican nominee. I’m very much against Democrats — negative partisanship and all that. I would vote for him again if he was the nominee again. But we want to move on. And it’s very, very difficult to move on because an attack on Trump is sort of seen as carrying the Democrats’ water.

But some of this Putin sympathetic conversation is just for some folks a bridge too far. And you’re seeing the slow waning of Trump’s influence in the G.O.P., at least so far. And this is another way in which a brick is removed from that wall of support. And so there are people who are always testing and probing the limits of how far can they go. And these kind words about Putin, or calling him a genius or Zelensky a thug, these are the things that a lot of them are Trump reluctant Republicans are going to jump on.

And even if they don’t jump on Trump when he says it, they’ll jump on his surrogates or his allies when they say it. I mean, look, it’s going to be very interesting to see if this is responsible for sort of a further erosion of support for the Trump clones that are walking around in the primaries. And that’s what I’m going to be looking at very carefully.

jane coaston

Michael, Trump and I think more critically, Trump-style isolationism doesn’t come out of nowhere. You have America first with Pat Buchanan in 1992, 1993, and isolationist spirit within the Republican Party that comes out of the experiences in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

And I’m curious for you, as someone who’s understandably hesitant whether or not this is a concern, is like you had a Republican Party that was more willing to look towards isolationism or less foreign involvement under Trump. But now you’re seeing many Republicans being like Biden’s too weak on Putin. Biden’s weak on everything.

michael brendan dougherty

Yeah.

jane coaston

Yes, it’s an upcoming midterms. But is that a concern for you?

michael brendan dougherty

So the Republican Party is torn apart by contrary impulses on this. And it has been throughout its history. And so you saw awkward moments where, for instance, during the Obama years, Obama was making a kind of halfhearted case for intervention in Syria. And you saw elected Republicans getting into a rhetorical mode of saying, see, Obama is weak. He’s not taking this threat seriously. He’s letting Assad get the better of him.

But then when Obama threw the idea of regime change in Syria to Congress, most Republicans shrank back because they saw polls showing Americans were against a policy of regime change in Syria and for a huge American commitment to that conflict. So Republicans were navigating that with both contrary impulses at once, right?

And I think you’re going to see the same thing with Ukraine. There’s going to be Republicans saying, look, this is happening because Joe Biden bugged out of Afghanistan and he’s weak, even if that policy in Afghanistan was set in motion by Donald Trump. And then you will see — like I think you will — a reversion to a policy position of, well, we don’t want to expand this war in a way that’s totally unpredictable.

david french

You know, I would put the Republican response to Trump’s foreign policy like this — the reality was Trump’s foreign policy was remarkably incoherent. But the Republicans’ response was he’s always right. And this is a product of our extreme partisanship. He threatens fire and fury on Kim Jong-un and then holds hands with him later. So it was incoherent frequently.

But the one unifying reality was that you were to get in line with whatever it was that he wanted to do. And so what that ended up doing, in a lot of ways, is kicking the can down the road as to determine what is the new Republican foreign policy. And so what is it now? And I think the Ukraine situation, as it drags on, is going to really begin to define that.

And Michael and I might have some differences, for example, on how much should we arm Ukraine. And we might have some differences on what kind of weapons should you arm Ukraine. We are going to agree on no no-fly zone. We’ll probably have some differences on should Ukraine, if it exists after this conflict as a viable country, which is an open question, should it ever receive NATO membership?

And those are the things that are really going to get down to the nitty-gritty of the distinctions in Republican philosophy. But for four years, it was an incoherent mess that had only one unifying characteristic. And the marching orders were you have to defend Trump, even if Trump completely contradicts himself from one day to the next.

jane coaston

But David, doesn’t that seem a little bit — I feel that in some ways that’s representative of public opinion. You had Americans writ large saying, we got to end the war in Afghanistan. And then Biden ends the war in Afghanistan, and Americans are like, well, not like that.

david french

Right.

jane coaston

I feel as if, in some ways, if the messaging is incoherent, it’s because our own perspectives on foreign policy are —

david french

Oh, of course.

jane coaston

— also incoherent.

david french

Of course. I mean, look, the fact of the matter that 74 percent of Americans in a Reuters poll said yes to no-fly zone tells me that folks don’t really know what that is and thought that through. The one thing that we do know, though, about American foreign policy is that it doesn’t matter to most Americans until it really, really does.

michael brendan dougherty

Yeah.

david french

And when it really, really does is usually when there is a disaster that unfolds — everything from the Iranian hostage crisis to 9/11 to the withdrawal from Afghanistan. So that’s why when it comes to policymakers, policymakers have to pursue a strategic goal. And so if you’re going to conduct a foreign policy on the basis of issue-polling, that’s madness.

michael brendan dougherty

Well, I would add further that one thing that’s underappreciated in American foreign policy debates is the sheer unprecedented strength and unchallengeability of America as a world power. And that actually insulates and allows for a great deal of failure — failure that doesn’t cost us, right?

So smaller countries that choose to join a war and then the government that chose to join that war fails, those government leaders end with bullets in their heads, being strung up in the street, being stabbed on a cell phone video like Gaddafi. Our leaders who make a bad foreign policy decision and fail, they go on to prestigious jobs teaching at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and in think tanks because we don’t suffer the worst consequences of our bad decisions. Other people do. Afghans are suffering right now. So that is one reason why foreign policy is low on the priority list.

jane coaston

David, I want to ask you — the re-emergence of Russia as this kind of global pariah really echoes dynamics of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union. I just wonder how you think about the role that nostalgia might be playing in the conservative reaction to the invasion?

david french

You know, I would say it’s maybe less nostalgia than moral clarity brings a form of relief, if that makes sense. In the sense that we’ve been spending a lot of time in the last 10 years really trying to figure out how do we unwind or remain in military commitments abroad — specifically, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan — for which the moral clarity of the moment has been lost in the recesses of time.

And then you have I would say some Republicans — not as much as you used to — but Republicans nursed a big grievance against the scorn that Obama and many members of the Obama coalition heaped upon Mitt Romney going back to 2012 when Mitt Romney described Russia as a chief geopolitical foe. And so you have a couple of things going on at once. One, there’s the moral clarity of the moment, which is this is something that feels much different, because it is, quite frankly, much different than a lot of the strategic decisions we’ve been having to make.

And then it’s sense of vindication in a long running argument about the world and that the great power conflicts — that the United States could not and should not have treated the possibility of great power conflicts as some sort of relic of the distant past. And therefore, the United States’ continued commitment to NATO, the United States’ continued commitment to military strength, and continued commitment to its alliances has been vindicated.

So I think there’s a moral clarity and a sense of vindication here in the historical argument that does unite Republicans to a great degree. But also, interestingly enough, I’m seeing a huge amount of unity amongst Democrats here as well. This is a rare moment of bipartisan unity here. And I think that also brings a sense of relief from the nonstop endless partisan wars that we’ve been fighting here at home.

michael brendan dougherty

I’d like to bring up a disquieting thought.

jane coaston

You know I love disquieting thoughts.

michael brendan dougherty

Because I think we’re not just seeing relief. I think we’re also seeing war fever, right? That moral clarity is also dangerous. It is why we are seeing Tchaikovsky getting canceled, why we’re seeing Russian composers, or ballerinas, or sopranos getting punished for the sins being committed by the Kremlin. In some of those cases, I think we look ugly and we look like ignorant haters in some instances. Maybe for some people that’s relief. But for me, it’s actually quite frightening.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

dana

Hi, Jane. This is Dana calling from Philadelphia. My dad is a pretty staunch Republican and so we usually don’t talk about too many things. But something that he keeps repeating is like, this war in Ukraine would have never happened if Trump were president. And the thing that I want to say but don’t really want to get into is just like, well, yeah, because Donald Trump was very anti-NATO and also within the pocket of Putin in a lot of ways. And I’m wondering if I’m wrong about this?

jane coaston

What are you arguing about with your family, your friends, your frenemies? Tell me about the big debate you’re having in a voicemail by calling 347-915-4324, and we might play an excerpt of it on a future episode.

I think we’re getting into the disagreement about the American handling of this conflict. And I want to start with U.S. sanctions against Russia. David, were sanctions the right move and are we sanctioning the right things?

david french

Well, overall, absolutely sanctions are the right move. The more crippling, the better, from my standpoint. And, look, I agree with Michael that some of this cultural — I don’t even want to call it virtue signaling — it’s just cultural thuggishness towards individual Russians who are not oligarchs, for example, who are not part of the Russian elite that helps prop up the Putin regime is absurd. I agree with Michael on that.

But when it comes to the response to Russia, the decisiveness with which the Western world has moved to cut off the Russian economy at the knees, and also to arm Ukrainians themselves, and also to bulk up the defense budgets of some of our more recalcitrant Western allies — what all of that does is it not only increases the chance of Ukraine prevailing or at least being able to retain some of its national sovereignty to some extent when the shooting stops, it also is a tremendous deterrent towards any future Russian military aggression.

And I might also add, I think it sends a deterrent message to China as well that the West has life left in it. And I think that is absolutely vitally important because we’re in a very dangerous moment in history. Because if we return to the world where great powers are able to sort of gobble up or nibble at the edges of their smaller power neighbors, then we are looking at a degree of instability that a lot of us thought was behind us, but was really only behind us because of the strength of the NATO alliance and because of the strength of our alliances in other parts of the world.

And so I think that this is a key moment where we can either reaffirm those alliances, reaffirm the strength of those alliances, or where they start to degrade further. And if they degrade further, be ready for this not to be the last aggressive great power move. And that’s what I’m actually quite concerned about.

michael brendan dougherty

So I disagree pretty profoundly almost on every point. The sanctions — some sanctions were obviously justified. And I have been surprised by the velocity with which European powers have united and moved, particularly Germany. Sanctions are a difficult tool. There are very few times where you can point to sanctions achieving their end, achieving what the people who impose the sanctions wanted them to achieve. If they’re going to work, the stick has to be paired with carrots. How would the sanctions be lifted? When would they be lifted? Under what conditions?

Further, I don’t know if U.S. and European policymakers understood the power of the sanction on the Central Bank that they did launch. And I actually think in the initial days afterward they were afraid it was too powerful and had moved beyond pressuring the Putin regime to totally destabilizing it. I think that fear has abated somewhat, but that is a real concern. Which is, is there an off ramp for Russia besides the destruction of its regime? Because in that case, I think we can induce it to act more belligerently, more unpredictably, and more dangerously.

With respect to NATO, people talk about — and I think it snuck into David’s remarks there — that there was some kind of retreat from our alliances. This is not the case. We never shut the open door to Ukraine for NATO. We never shut it. Very deliberately never shut it in public. We armed Ukraine. And it was NATO countries arming Ukraine over the last seven years.

But that gets into this larger debate about what was the role NATO actually played historically in bringing about this conflict? Did we, in a sense, stiffen up the Ukrainian government to put itself in an unrealistic position, in exactly the position I have written about and feared about for seven years. A position where the West was not going to come and save it, but Russia was in a position to destroy it.

David talks about we don’t want to be in a situation where big powers gobble up smaller neighbors. I agree. But one way smaller neighbors have survived bigger powers next to them is with a policy of neutrality, which was the policy that has saved Switzerland from devastating war with France or Germany. It’s the policy that allowed Ireland to become an independent state because it signaled to the United Kingdom we will not be a security threat the way we have been for six centuries previous to this where other foreign powers were able to attack you from us. I think neutrality is a real strategic position that can help some countries remain independent sovereign and avoid war.

david french

You know, I think the neutrality vision just simply doesn’t reflect where Putin is on this. I mean, he is not interested in neutrality. He is interested in domination. I mean, look, he gave a speech in which he indicated that he doesn’t even view an independent nation of Ukraine as legitimate in the first place.

And so I think the neutrality vision is one that is much more available to countries who are in the orbit, say, of Western powers. It is not something that’s so available to countries that are in the near abroad of authoritarian dictators like Putin, who have visions of Russian imperial grandiosity. So I don’t see how Ukraine had a neutrality path when Vladimir Putin doesn’t even recognize its legitimacy as a nation.

michael brendan dougherty

I mean —

david french

That’s my issue with the neutrality vision.

michael brendan dougherty

Switzerland literally sits in between the two countries that went fascist in World War II and it did not get embroiled in a war it could not win or meaningfully contribute to.

jane coaston

Well, it did serve as a repository for Jewish capital smuggled by Nazis.

michael brendan dougherty

It did do that. And it also was a place where dissenters from almost every power could go to for refuge. So neutral countries do provide roles in the international —

david french

But Switzerland also has a lot of geographic advantages. The comparison of Switzerland and Ukraine — the question of whether or not Switzerland even has a right to exist in an independent country was not necessarily a relevant argument of the last 100 years or so. Whereas, here you had a dictator saying — not even recognizing that it has a legitimate right to exist period, much less as a neutral entity.

jane coaston

Part of the elephant in the room here is Ukraine is a buffer country. You see kind of the argument from some isolationists on the right and some on the left — which has been a fun grab bag of entertainment — that border countries, or so-called buffer countries, just have to put up with what’s happening to them.

You’ve both written a lot about nationalism and talked a lot about national identity. But like, there are lots of small non-NATO countries that are watching what’s happening with Ukraine — places like Armenia, Moldova — and I think that there would be justified worry that Putin might decide let’s get the whole gang back together in this Russian imperial vision. But there’s kind of a nationalism for me, but not nationalism for you. Do you see a disconnect there?

michael brendan dougherty

Well, I mean, I would say nationalism is a protean force in modern politics. And I’ve argued before in National Review and in other places that where the existence or loyalties of a nation are put into doubt, you get a lot of nationalism, right? So Ukraine is a place where there’s a lot of nationalism and nationalists kind of span the political spectrum from even socialist nationalists, to fascists, and conservatives, and liberals like Zelensky.

So I just don’t think nationalism is — it is not a coherent ideology. It’s a response that takes ideologies into hand in order to do something with them. That thing could be noble, like establishing independence for a free liberal state. It could be totally ignoble, like making war on a country in order to subjugate the citizens of that country and steal their resources.

And that’s also why you see in some cases — I know people have tried to make this conflict into a global contest between liberalism and nationalism — but, in fact, you see Poland, which is run by a populist nationalist government, coming to the assistance of the Ukrainians in the biggest way possible, precisely because their nationalist history and story has been so shaped by resistance to Moscow’s rule. That’s all to say that I just don’t think we can say nationalism good or nationalism bad. It’s just nationalism is kind of everywhere, especially during war.

david french

When you’re talking about this fight, I see it as a battle between people who have a nationalist slash patriotic desire to be left alone and imperialist power. This is a power that is seeking to recreate something that was lost — an imperial reach that was lost.

One of the reasons why I am so wedded to our defensive alliances is that if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that if national borders are contingent upon the imperial dreams of its more powerful neighbors, that is inherently destabilizing. When you have a defensive alliance that secures national borders, that is inherently stabilizing. And so that’s why I think that one positive outgrowth of the united diplomatic front in response to Russia is the re-stabilizing and re-solidifying of this NATO alliance.

And I think when you’re talking about this realpolitik view that says, hey, if a great power has somebody close to it, well, that’s just sort of too bad, so sad for the country close by, what you realize is that every time the great power extends itself, there’s a new country close to it. It’s not self-limiting. At some point, the notion that international boundaries should be inviolate, that sovereign nations should be secure from invasion, that is one of the more stabilizing notions in world history.

Any move that casts that into doubt is inherently destabilizing. And that’s why it’s so necessary for the West, without risking nuclear conflict with Russia, to demonstrate for a generation, if possible, that this form of aggressive warfare is going to cost far, far more than anything that Russia will gain.

michael brendan dougherty

It’s possible that that will happen and Russia will be humiliated and defeated and will suffer internal ruin along the lines that it did after the collapse of the Soviet Union and need to be rebuilt again by people. How threatening to us? I don’t know. But I can say this, I think the realpolitik argument that David rejected, I think it would be thrown right back at him by Vladimir Putin who’s saying, well, you’re telling me too bad, so sad, NATO is going to expand to my border.

You’re saying that NATO is going to overthrow a regime in Syria that hosts a Russian naval base that has been there and been established for a long time, that after my government concludes a high stakes deal, peacefully, with the elected government of Ukraine in a legitimate internationally recognized election, NATO is going to come in and assist a popular rebellion to overthrow that government and institute its own policy, begin arming it, and basically put into doubt the lease that the Russian government had negotiated with Ukraine to host its naval base in Sevastopol in Crimea.

You’re saying to him, like, too bad, so sad, the realpolitik is we’re more powerful than you and we can do this. We can make this reality happen. I mean, that’s literally the argument he has made in his speeches is that he cannot withstand that anymore and that’s why he’s acted in this way that I think will be redound against his interests in the long-term.

So after this clears up, we have to do some real hard thinking about what is Russia’s place in the world going to be when we are in this very powerful position where we are conventionally, economically, culturally so much stronger than it, but it can do intolerable damage to us when it’s cornered.

david french

I’m sorry, just one thing I want to say about this arming Ukraine prior to this invasion point, which I see a lot of people bring up as being inherently provocative to Russia. We were not arming Ukraine with weapons that posed a millimeter of offensive threat to Russia. Weapons like javelin missiles, for example, they do not pose the slightest offensive threat to Russia.

All of this war-gaming that we’re doing right now about how do you accommodate Russia, in many ways, what we’re talking about is accommodating domination of a sovereign country, a nation that doesn’t believe that sovereign country should even exist. And the provocation of arming wasn’t anything that represented the slightest bit of offensive danger to Russia at all. The, quote unquote, “threat” was that it just made Ukraine harder to dominate as we are seeing right now.

michael brendan dougherty

But as I argued, it’s also turning Ukraine to the West in such a way — so, for instance, if Ukraine is, as it became, constitutionally committed to join NATO, well, it cannot do that while it hosts a Russian military base unless Russia is also in NATO. So that is a kind of death warrant on Russian sea power in the Black Sea. Is it your position that Ukraine should be free to join NATO and NATO should accept Ukraine as a member, even if that means reneging on this lease that it has for the Sevastopol naval base.

jane coaston

But that’s not —

michael brendan dougherty

And should that be our goal —

jane coaston

But I feel as if —

michael brendan dougherty

— in Ukraine?

jane coaston

I feel like we’re getting very specific here. But the NATO piece of this is important. But we were hearing from Putin originally that this is about de-nazification —

michael brendan dougherty

Right.

jane coaston

— and about the Russian Empire.

david french

Right.

jane coaston

And so my concern here is that, yes, this is what Putin is saying, this is what the Russian government is saying. NATO poses a threat. But then, again, one, if I were Ukraine and I were looking at a Russian incursion that’s been taking place on the East since 2014 — even earlier — I would also be interested in joining NATO. How do we deal with that? How do we deal with the fact that even if we say, and the Ukrainian government say, we don’t want to join NATO. It’s not the time. We don’t want to do that. I don’t think Putin’s going to be like, oh, OK, bye.

michael brendan dougherty

Well, at this point, we are in the midst of the war. Some of the NATO debate is a historical debate about what led us to this moment. And as in all wars, we are going to look back in years hence and say, well, there were lots of contributing factors. And then part of the debate about Ukraine and NATO is about the future. Should Ukraine be a neutral country? Is that a viable future for it?

And in a sense, the debate is so much more excruciating now, because, of course, now Ukraine has seen the danger, has experienced the privations, the death and mayhem that Russia is willing to inflict on it. So of course, it will want to run to an anti-Russian alliance in its protection. So Ukraine is going to want to lean to the West.

But now we’ve also seen in the West what it looks like when there’s a conflict where Russia has 1,200 miles plus of land border to surround and how much you have to arm it to repel that invasion and what the costs of an invasion like that are. So the debates that we had about in the past are only going to get more excruciating for Ukraine’s future.

jane coaston

David, what do you think?

david french

Oh, I think all of the decisions now are difficult. They were difficult before.

michael brendan dougherty

Yeah.

david french

Yeah. Before you even get to the NATO decision, what you are going to see is a concerted effort on the West to so thoroughly and well-equip the Ukrainian forces that continue to exist. The short to medium-term goal is to make sure that Russia doesn’t have the capacity to seize the whole country. And then from that point, that’s where decisions get more and more and more difficult.

So I agree with Michael that we’ve got a lot of hard choices to make here. But one thing that I would note, however, is I think that it is very, very telling that you have nations far more vulnerable than Ukraine for which there is no realistic effort by the Russian military to mass on its borders, to take and to seize them — nations like Estonia, for example. Yet, that is stable. That border is stable. And it’s right up next to Russia. Why is it stable? It’s stable because it’s a NATO.

And so I do think that if we can stabilize the front, implement a sustainable cease fire, then I do think there should be serious conversations about extending NATO membership to whatever remains of Ukraine after this time. And you can make arrangements and compromises that are — Michael talked about Sevastopol in Crimea. Heck, we’ve had a naval base in Cuba throughout the entire Cold War. I mean, it was even there during the Cuban Missile Crisis — Guantanamo Bay. So there are ways in which you make accommodations and compromises to maintain peace, but you cannot ultimately compromise on the existence of your own sovereign nation.

jane coaston

So I think that that actually leads me to ask — we have no idea where the conflict in Ukraine is headed. The Russian government certainly doesn’t know because they thought this would probably be done three weeks ago. But I’m curious how do each of you hope that the Republican Party responds to the news in the mid to long-term. What are the stakes in the ground that you hope that or you think that the Republican Party should be planting in this moment? And what kind of messaging do you want Republicans to coalesce around? David, do you want to start?

david french

Well, I talked to earlier in the conversation about that there are online and the offline worlds in the Republican Party are somewhat at odds with each other. I do think that online world of the conspiracies around biolabs, the sympathy for Putin as a guardian of the anti-woke Christian tradition, I want to see the Republican Party thoroughly reject that.

Number two, I would like to see a recovery from Republican — frivolity is the wrong word — just pettiness and unseriousness. If you go to a lot of large Republican gatherings these days, whether it’s a CPAC or a TPUSA gathering, it’s almost a joke how unserious it all is, how much it’s conspiracy-driven, how much it is grievance-driven, how much it is deep into Twitter minutia.

And then what flows naturally from a return to seriousness is a rejection of Trumpism, and not just Trumpism as an ideology but Trumpism as a posture towards the world. So I hope it’s a moment, a splash of cold water in the face of the very online Trumpist right. And I hope it’s a return to seriousness and a recognition of the importance of America’s role in the world as a guarantor of stability that helps us, yes, and it also helps countless hundreds of millions of people around the globe to live lives of peace and prosperity.

jane coaston

I want to jump in just very quickly, because occasionally there’s this idea that I see sometimes among conservatives that now we can stop with the unseriousness of talking about cultural issues. And I understand what you mean about like, you know, TPUSA events. All of that kind of conservative conferences are very focused on specific minutia of online conflicts.

david french

Yeah.

jane coaston

And I think that’s what you’re referring to.

david french

Yeah.

jane coaston

But I do think that there’s this idea that in wartime, everyone’s too serious to be concerned about L.G.B.T. issues. And I’m like, well, if you’re L.G.B.T., you’re concerned all the time. I want to make sure that culture issues and culture exists even in the midst of conflict. Michael, I’m curious as to you, as someone who has seen the Republican Party shift, especially in response to Iraq and Afghanistan, I’m curious as to what you think.

michael brendan dougherty

So we began this by talking about this view among a minority of people that the West is unserious and Russia is serious power and that’s why some conservatives admire Putin and kind of degrade the United States. In a way, I actually think David just paid tribute to that view, but in a way that’s tragic.

That is, the unseriousness of Republicans at these events I fear tragically is a result of America’s unbelievable power, prosperity and security. We would not be so unserious if we were facing bread lines, if we were facing what Russia faced in the 1990s with alcoholism. And maybe we should actually recognize the splash of cold water in our face which we see in the opioid epidemic.

But the thing is is that self-knowledge and humility is usually only given to you through unspeakable tragedy. And I do not long for America to suffer an unspeakable tragedy that brings about revelation.

jane coaston

Yeah, you don’t want to be those super online people who think that a Civil War would actually be low-key awesome —

david french

Right.

jane coaston

— because everyone would get very serious and start being more like them. I don’t like those people. Not cool.

michael brendan dougherty

Right. So that’s what I’d like to see. But I am worried that people only sober up when they hit a rock bottom.

jane coaston

David, Michael, thank you both so much for coming back on “The Argument.” It was great to have you both back.

david french

Thanks so much for having us.

michael brendan dougherty

Thank you. [MUSIC PLAYING]

jane coaston

Michael Brendan Dougherty is a Senior Editor at National Review. He’s the author of the book, “My Father Left Me Ireland.” David French is a Senior Editor at The Dispatch, where he writes the newsletter “The French Press.” He is also a contributing writer at The Atlantic.

For more on the G.O.P.‘s views on Putin and the war on Ukraine, I recommend “The War in Ukraine is a Blow to the Nationalist Post-Liberal Right,” by David French, featured in his newsletter “The French Press.” And I recommend “Wartime’s Macabre Predictions of a Populist Defeat,” by Michael Brendan Dougherty, published in National Review in March 2022. You can find links to all of these in our episode notes.

The Argument is the production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Phoebe Lett, Elisa Gutierrez, and Vishakha Darbha, edited by Alison Bruzek and Anabel Bacon, with original music and sound design by Isaac Jones, mixing by Pat McCusker, fact-checking by Andrea López-Cruzado, audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Our executive producer is Irene Noguchi. Special thanks this week to Kristina Samulewski.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Source

Previous post I’ve spent £20k on beauty treatments
Next post Human Migration Brought Maize to Maya Region, Study Finds

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *