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Mark Davis: Most Republicans want to help Ukraine win — but US aid can’t go on forever

The first year of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine saw a predictable ebb in the American attention span. As the months passed, we grew less fixated on Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine and Vlodymyr Zelensky’s effort to repel it.

But President Joe Biden’s surprise visit to Kiev on Feb. 20 has energized all sides in the debate over how much additional support the US should offer and for how long. His meeting with Zelensky was an opportunity to reaffirm a commitment to the defense of Ukraine, but it also awakened skepticism among those who wonder how expensive this proxy war with Russia is going to get and what an exit strategy might look like.

The favored exit, of course, features Putin retreating from Ukrainian soil, allowing the US and international partners to celebrate the spoils of diligence. Biden and congressional leaders in both parties are painting such a prospect vividly, arguing that success can be realized if we continue infusions of cash and weaponry towards the cause.

But while Democrats seem to have found a war they can support, Republican opposition is likely to notch upward if 2023 starts to look like another year of stalemate.

A small but vocal cohort of House Republicans has filed a resolution calling for an immediate stop to Ukraine aid in favor of urging “all combatants to reach a peace agreement.” That does not currently constitute mainstream Republican sentiment, but 47% of GOP respondents in a February Gallup poll said we were helping Ukraine “too much.” That number will only grow if spring or summer do not bring evidence of American money and armament paying off.

If Biden’s reassuring stopover was an attempt to inspire the American public to stay the course, so too was a visit by supportive congressional Republicans immediately afterwards. That delegation, featuring members with considerable military backgrounds, returned with the goal of stemming the changing tide among their own voters.

These Republicans returned to share stories of Russian atrocities and promised reliable oversight over US contributions to the Ukrainian effort but nevertheless faced tough questions about how much is enough. While a Ukrainian victory over Russian aggressors is a nearly universal wish, the prospect of an interminable standoff erodes our national willingness to attach to this undertaking indefinitely.

News from the region has not suggested success is close. Days of stories of bloodied, dispirited Russian troops can often be followed by reports of Putin’s forces brutally cutting new swaths through the Ukrainian population.

It is not illogical to suggest that ramping up American aid might bring about a desired outcome sooner. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, returned from the region to hit the interview circuit, claiming that even Biden is not supportive enough. He called the president’s hesitancy to commit F-16 fighters to the Ukrainian cause “unfortunate,” adding that military leaders have told him “we need to put everything we have in there.”

And for Americans of any political persuasion who grow weary of the cost and suspicious of an endless slog, he added: “I know the administration says ‘as long as it takes.’ I think with the right weapons, it shouldn’t take so long.”

Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin did themselves no favors with language that seems to hitch us to the Ukraine support wagon with no exit ramp. If the months ahead show no promise of success, look for growing calls to engage both sides in an agreement that would cede some of eastern Ukraine to Russia in return for an end to the conflict.

Such a solution would be a blow to Zelensky, who dreams of victory without losing an acre of his country. It may not be satisfying to Putin’s expansionist goals. But compromises always involve both sides giving in to some degree, and millions of American taxpayers will be ready by year’s end to see that deal struck.

But we’re not there yet. To have the best chance of seeing a tyrant thwarted — and our investment rewarded — it seems wise to continue our support in every strategically sensible way for the generous time frame of this calendar year.

If that means Putin has a date he can circle, so be it. So does Zelensky, and so does every US politician telling us victory is possible. Let’s hope they are right.

Mark Davis hosts a morning radio show in Dallas-Fort Worth on 660-AM and at 660amtheanswer.com. Follow him on Twitter: @markdavis.

Mark Davis

Mark Davis

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