Dear Mr. Vance,
Or may I call you J.D.? (You can call me Cliff! Or C.D.!) Congratulations on winning the Ohio Senate GOP primary! What an amazing American journey you’re having!
Count me among the millions of readers inspired by “Hillbilly Elegy,” the story of your escape from a dysfunctional subculture – not through government programs that encourage dependency but through your own agency, with help from a tough-loving grandmother and the discipline you internalized as a Marine.
I’m writing you today about a different subject. Statements you’ve made recently have left people with the impression that you’re unmoved by Vladimir Putin’s rape of Ukraine and that you’re tending toward isolationism.
For example, on February 19, you said on a podcast: “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or another.” Of course, that was five days before the Russian offensive, a time when most analysts expected Ukrainians to be quickly overwhelmed by superior Russian military power.
Instead – and despite multiple Russian atrocities intended to terrorize them – Ukrainians have displayed extraordinary courage, resilience, and determination in defense of their homeland, independence, and freedom. The now-famous response of Ukraine’s elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to an American offer to get him out of the country: “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
Given your history, you must admire and support that spirit. Am I wrong?
In the Columbus Dispatch on March 31, you published a masterful takedown of your primary competitors who had come out in favor of setting up a no-fly zone over Ukraine. You understood that would require shooting down Russian military aircraft and eliminating surface-to-air missile systems inside Russia. In other words: initiating a war with Russia.
What we’re doing instead (albeit belatedly) is supplying Ukrainians with the means to defend themselves.
Could that nonetheless lead to a war between the U.S. and Russia – one initiated by Mr. Putin? Sure. But America is a sovereign nation. We have the right to provide another sovereign nation with assistance – not least when it is facing an existential threat.
If we were to let Mr. Putin deprive us of that right, he would soon make additional demands. So would other nuclear-armed tyrants. America would no longer be a great power. I cannot believe you’d support the U.S. accepting such defeat.
You also write: “I will be damned if I am going to prioritize Ukraine’s eastern border right now when our own southern border is engulfed by a human tsunami of illegal migrants.”
That’s a false choice. Long before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Biden decided – for ideological and/or political reasons – not to defend our border or seriously vet those streaming into the country.
What we need is an administration that prioritizes America’s national-security interests both at home and abroad.
You know what would be preferable to supporting Ukrainians today? If we had supported Ukrainians years ago – certainly starting in 2014 after Mr. Putin seized Crimea and sent forces into the Donbas which has been a bloody conflict zone ever since.
The Ukrainians asked President Obama for defensive military assistance. He turned them down. A bad decision, no?
Similarly, President Biden was, until recently, unwilling to send President Zelensky weaponry that might have deterred Mr. Putin. His policy instead was not to “provoke” the Russian ruler. He listed actions he would not take. He reassured Mr. Putin that a “minor incursion” might not cause much fuss.
He failed to understand that nothing is more provocative to a predator than weakness.
Okay, let’s talk more broadly about America’s nation security. On Feb. 4, Mr. Putin and China’s ruler, Xi Jinping, proclaimed a new “political and military” alliance that is to have “no limits” and “no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation.”
The Islamic Republic of Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua are making common cause with this alliance because they all want to diminish the United States and make the world safe for tyrants and neo-imperialists.
If Ukraine is conquered, this alliance – or axis? – will be strengthened. Mr. Putin’s appetite will be whetted, not sated. Our NATO allies are likely to be in his crosshairs next.
Meanwhile, Mr. Xi, who stripped the people of Hong Kong of their rights with nary a peep from the “international community,” covets Taiwan in the near term and plans to replace the U.S. as the major global power in the long term.
Kim Jung-un will conquer South Korea if he can.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is determined to spread his Islamic Revolution throughout the Middle East and beyond. For more than 40 years, his regime’s plainly stated objective: “Death to America!”
Americans fought a war in Europe, Asia, and Africa to prevent Fascists from dominating the world. Americans then fought a Cold War to prevent Communists from achieving the same goal. Would you really squander those hard-earned gains?
Because that will be the outcome if America ceases to exercise global leadership and instead makes a habit of retreat and capitulation – the policy preference of isolationists on both the right and left.
Another way to think about it: If a virus originating in lands where tyrants rule is allowed to spread globally, will Americans not be infected sooner or later?
“International stability is never a given,” the late, great Charles Krauthammer wrote in an insightful 1990 essay. “It is never the norm. When achieved, it is the product of self-conscious action by the great powers, and most particularly of the greatest power, which now and for the foreseeable future is the United States. If America wants stability, it will have to create it.” And maintain it.
Should you be interested in continuing this discussion, J.D., we have mutual friends who can put us in touch. Looking forward!
• Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times.