Opposition to Joe Biden’s proxy war to destroy Russia has entered the 2024 US Presidential election – from stage Right. And the growing anti-interventionist sentiment among grass roots conservatives and libertarians is alarming Establishment warhawks on both "left" and "right." They are furious.
Their anger boiled over when Tucker Carlson asked likely GOP presidential candidates for their positions on the cruel war steeped in the blood of Ukrainian proxies; he posted their replies on Twitter. There were only two who opposed the war, Donald Trump and Ronald DeSantis.
Trump’s responses came as no surprise. As before, he called for the war to end quickly, responding to Carlson in part:
"Russia would definitely not have raided and attacked Ukraine if I was your President. In fact, for four years they didn’t attack, nor did they have any intention of doing so as long as I was in charge. … That is all history, but how does it end, and it must end, NOW!
"If I were President, that horrible war would end in 24 hours, or less. It can be done, and it must be done– now!"
"…tell Ukraine that there will be little more money coming from us, UNLESS RUSSIA CONTINUES TO PROSECUTE THE WAR. The President must meet with each side, then both sides together, and quickly work out a deal. This can be easily done if conducted by the right President. Both sides are weary and ready to make a deal. The meetings should start immediately, there is no time to spare. The death and destruction MUST END NOW! Properly executed, this terrible and tragic War, a War that never should have started in the first place, will come to a speedy end."
Asked if opposing Russia in Ukraine a vital American national strategic interest, Trump replied: "No, but it is for Europe. But not for the United States. That is why Europe should be paying far more than we are, or equal."
Carlson also posed the following questions:
Should the United States should support regime change in Russia? Trump replied, "No. We should support regime change in the United States, that’s far more important. The Biden administration are the ones who got us into this mess."
In response to the observation that Russia’s economy and currency are stronger than before the war, Trump was asked if U.S. sanctions have been effective? "No, they have not been effective. Just the opposite."
Do you believe the United States faces the risk of nuclear war with Russia? "It depends on who the President of the United States is. At the moment, with Biden as president, absolutely yes."
Trump’s anti-interventionist sentiments were well known and had earned him the ire of neocons and progressive interventionists alike.
DeSantis Declares Himself an Anti-interventionist on Ukraine.
But the media was shaken to its imperial core when Trump’s main rival for the GOP nomination, Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis, voiced similar anti-interventionist heresies. In response to Carlson’s query, De Santis issued a statement which included the following:
"While the US has many vital national interests, (for example)….checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party, becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them. The Biden administration’s virtual ‘blank check’ funding of this conflict for ‘as long as it takes,’ without any defined objectives or accountability, distracts from our country’s most pressing challenges…
"Without question, peace should be the objective. The US should not provide assistance that could require the deployment of American troops or enable Ukraine to engage in offensive operations beyond its borders. F-16s and long-range missiles should therefore be off the table. These moves would risk explicitly drawing the United States into the conflict and drawing us closer to a hot war between the world’s two largest nuclear powers. That risk is unacceptable.
"A policy of "regime change" in Russia (no doubt popular among the DC foreign policy interventionists) would greatly increase the stakes of the conflict, making the use of nuclear weapons more likely."
The Establishment Media Goes Berserk.
Seeing DeSantis clamber aboard the MAGA peace train, albeit only in time to catch the caboose, triggered the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board to pen a piece titled, "The Florida Governor toys with a Trumpian Retreat on Ukraine":
"Ron DeSantis is sketching out a presidential campaign based on his manifest governing success in Florida and as a fearless fighter for principle who ignores the polls. Then how to explain his puzzling surrender this week to the Trumpian temptation of American retreat?
"That’s not too strong a way to describe his decision to call the war in Ukraine a "territorial dispute" that isn’t a vital US interest. He told Fox News that giving the Ukrainians long-range weapons and fighter jets ought to be "off the table," invoking the prospect of nuclear war with Russia. And he called for ‘peace’…"
A call for peace! Get on the phone to Christopher Wray and tell him to lock up the Florida governor. The WSJ like so many others felt betrayed. Their man to counter Trump had gone over to the other side on interventionism – or so it seemed.
The New York Times joined in and was quick to point out the breadth of the disappointment in Establishment Republican circles, headlining, "DeSantis, Backing Away From Ukraine, Angers G.O.P. Hawks: The Florida governor, who joined Donald Trump in declaring that defending Ukraine from Russia was not a vital interest, drew swift condemnations from establishment Republicans."
But in the case of De Santis, all was not lost for the interventionists. The Times noted:
"Mr. DeSantis left himself some wiggle room in his statement. The governor did not promise to end all U.S. aid to Ukraine – an omission noticed by some hard-line opponents of support for Ukraine, who criticized Mr. DeSantis for leaving open the possibility that he would keep up the flow of American assistance."
And sure enough, just days later, DeSantis wiggled. The Times was on the case right away. It reported that De Santis’s "lack of criticism of Mr. Putin" and the fact that he had "derided the notion of regime change in Russia" had disturbed the warhawks. But DeSantis had redeemed himself – or tried to – by calling Putin a "war criminal," which was billed as "clarifying" his comments to Tucker Carslon, a clarification which Carlson ridiculed and which the Times noted as follows: "The governor has a record as a congressman that has left different people believing he shares their foreign policy views, even when those people are on opposite ends of the spectrum."
Trump has also afforded himself considerable wiggle room. So skepticism is warranted as it always is. After all Nixon claimed he had a "secret plan" to end the US war on Vietnam. He did not end the war. On the other hand, Eisenhower promised he would end the fighting in the US war on Korea. He did end the fighting. So skepticism, not cynicism, is in order. The outcome depends in large part on how the electorate comes to view the war.
The Worst Fear of the Warhawks.
As its contribution to this Carlson-induced tempest, Politico provided a taxonomy of the GOP Presidential field. In the background are Biden and the Democrats, all committed to the war on Russia using Ukrainian proxies. Politico categorized the GOP candidates in three categories, "rules-based internationalists," that is warhawks; "conservative internationalists," that is, more warhawks; and "conservative nationalists" (perhaps better called "conservative anti-interventionists"), that is, Trump and DeSantis. And Politico points out, Trump and DeSantis are the also the frontrunners.
And that brings us to the core of the problem distressing the hegemonists at the NYT, the WSJ, the Establishment Wing of the GOP and all the wings of the Democratic Party. Trump and DeSantis are reflecting the views of a growing number in the GOP base on the question of Ukraine. That is a threat to the entire hegemonic enterprise, a threat that the warhawks cannot ignore.
The anti-interventionist sentiment of the GOP base showed up persuasively and dramatically last Spring when Congress took a vote on $40 billion to Ukraine in May of 2022. 68 members of Congress voted "nay," 57 in the House and 11 in the Senate, all Republicans. (At the same time the absence of naying on the part of the entire "Progressive" Dem Caucus and the entire Democratic Party exposed their embrace of the proxy war.)
The conservative Heritage Foundation, once profoundly hawkish, lobbied to vote against the billions to Ukraine. What happened to Heritage’s inner hawk? The president of the Foundation explained, "It is the job of conservatives inside the Beltway to better connect with conservatives outside the Beltway, and not the other way around." The Times spelled it out: "The Heritage Foundation’s position .. reflected the increasing potency of the "America First" impulse in the Republican Party, and how thoroughly it has trickled up to the thought leaders shaping its policy worldview." A trickle-up foreign policy is taking hold on the populist right. And that is the core fear of the hegemony crowd, both liberal/progressive and neocon.
John V. Walsh, until recently a Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience at a Medical School in Massachusetts, has written on issues of peace and health care for the San Francisco Chronicle, EastBayTimes/San Jose Mercury News, Asia Times, LA Progressive, Antiwar.com, CounterPunch, and others.