The Isolationist G.O.P., Again

When historians look back on the early days of 2024, they probably won’t recall what, precisely, an elderly Democratic president couldn’t quite remember about the names or countries of other world leaders. They will note what 26 Senate Republicans chose to forget about world leadership.

I’m referring to Tuesday morning’s Senate vote on a $95 billion supplemental foreign-aid package, including $60 billion in desperately needed military assistance for Ukraine, along with $14 billion for Israel and $10 billion for civilians in conflict zones, including Gaza. The bill must still pass the House, where it faces the opposition of Speaker Mike Johnson and can only hope to survive via parliamentary maneuvering and the votes of Democrats plus some remaining Republican security hawks.

On paper, the 70-to-29 vote looks like a bipartisan embrace of embattled democratic allies. But it marks the moment when Republicans reverted to the isolationism of the original America First Committee of pre-World War II infamy. A majority of the G.O.P. Senate conference, including onetime Ukraine hawks like Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton, voted against the aid, mostly, they said, because it wasn’t paired with border-security measures.

That’s the same bill they voted against last week — a bill patiently negotiated over months by one of the most conservative Republicans in the Senate, Oklahoma’s James Lankford. The cynicism would be breathtaking if it weren’t so predictable coming from the Trumpified right.

Let’s walk through some additional points of dissent among Republicans who opposed the bill.

From Arkansas’s Cotton, there’s the argument that support for Israel’s efforts to defeat Hamas is incompatible with any civilian assistance for Gazans. From Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, we have the claim that although Vladimir Putin is “an evil war criminal,” Russia is certain to win the war, so funding Kyiv prolongs Ukrainian suffering and, by implication, wastes American money. From Ohio’s J.D. Vance, this: “The supplemental represents an attempt by the foreign policy blob/deep state to stop President Trump from pursuing his desired policy.”

What a mix of cruelty, defeatism, conspiracy-mongering and political servility.

I’m surely among the most pro-Israel commentators around, but I can think of no moral or strategic argument in which hunger and disease among Gaza’s civilians serve anyone’s interests, least of all Israel’s. Johnson’s argument that Ukraine can’t win is belied by the fact that until it started running out of artillery shells, it was more than holding its own against Russia. It also echoes the prewar defeatism of figures like Robert Taft and Joseph Kennedy, who argued against helping Britain during the Blitz because Hitler was destined to win.

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