Rubin: GOP godfathers defeat in a war that Ukraine could still win

Even as GOP hawks promote a dangerous new Mideast war with Iran, MAGA Republicans are pursuing a U.S. defeat in a much more critical conflict: Ukraine’s war with Russia.

Yes, you read that correctly. On the one hand, Donald Trump decries President Joe Biden’s “weakness and surrender” over a drone attack by a radical Iraqi militia allied with Iran that killed three U.S. troops last Sunday. This has prompted GOP demands that Biden bomb Iran — never mind that this could trigger the wider Mideast conflagration that everyone feared might be provoked by the war in Gaza.

Yet, at the same time, also obeying Trump, House Republicans are determined to cut off military aid for Ukraine. This, even though Democrats have bowed to GOP demands that this funding be linked to legislation to block the massive flow of migrants on the southern border. This aid cutoff will doom Kyiv in 2024 and convince Vladimir Putin that he need only wait for Trump, who, if elected, will consign Ukraine to Russian domination.

New Mideast war

But the depth of the GOP’s betrayal of U.S. security is even more severe than I have described. Contrary to many news reports, Ukraine has scored impressive sea victories in 2023 and could still force Putin to the table on Kyiv’s terms.

Instead, Trump’s GOP is pushing for an unnecessary new Mideast war while promoting defeat in a war where Ukraine could still win.

This is an absurd moment to embark on a U.S. war with Tehran. U.S. focus needs to be on pursuing regional diplomacy over the war in Gaza — diplomacy that can bring Israeli hostages home, address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and, ultimately, neuter Hamas terrorists.

Iran has been using the excuse of the Gaza war to activate pro-Iranian militias — Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen — or Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq. They include the Iraqi band that managed to kill three soldiers at a small U.S. base in Jordan used to monitor resurgence of Islamic terror groups.

Yes, after these American deaths, the U.S. response must convince Tehran that its proxies must be restrained from blocking Red Sea maritime traffic and attacking U.S. bases. However, the goal should not be an all-out conflict with Iran that would embroil major U.S. forces and trap Israel into a wider war with Hezbollah on its northern front.

The bigger threat

As former NATO supreme commander James Stavridis proposed via Bloomberg, there are many options short of attacking the Iranian mainland. For example, use cybertools against Tehran’s oil and gas infrastructure, hit an Iranian warship supporting its proxies in Yemen, or target Iranian oil and gas platforms in the Arabian Gulf.

What is infuriating about the GOP’s Mideast warmongering is not just the usual Trump hypocrisy (he backed off bombing Iran after a rocket attack by Tehran proxies in 2020 killed two Americans). Much more outrageous and anti-American is the Trump-led resistance in Congress to helping Ukraine push back an expansionist Russia — an adversary that poses a far greater threat to America than Iran.

Putin has made clear that his imperialist goals in Europe go far beyond taking control of Ukraine. I believe his threats of using nuclear weapons in Europe and against America are bluster. But if the United States bows to Putin on Ukraine, whether from fear or from Trump’s embrace of autocrats, it will encourage the Russian leader and other dictators to undermine our interests on land and sea, and in space.

What is particularly tragic is that Ukraine has achieved astonishing gains in 2023 that get insufficient attention in the mainstream press. Although Kyiv lacks a navy, it forced Russia to withdraw the bulk of its Black Sea fleet from Moscow’s main naval base in occupied Crimea. It used sea drones invented by Ukraine’s impressive tech sector, along with domestic cruise missiles, plus long-range missiles supplied by the United Kingdom and France.

The Ukrainians even managed to break Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, which was driving up global food prices.

Russians blinked

I was in Odesa in July, when Moscow abandoned a U.S.-brokered deal to let grain ships leave the port city. Putin threatened to bomb any further grain exports and targeted grain silos in Odesa’s harbor. But in August, Ukraine struck back and hit a Russian oil tanker near the Russian port of Novorossiysk on the Black Sea’s eastern coast, threatening Russian oil exports. The Russians blinked and pulled most of their fleet from Crimea back to Russia, enabling Ukraine to set up a new export corridor for grain and other goods.

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The clear message: If you push back hard enough against Putin, he yields and abandons red lines. If the GOP permitted the passage of Ukraine aid — and if Biden would finally green-light the export of U.S. long-range ATACMS single warhead missiles — Ukraine could make the entire Crimean Peninsula untenable for Russian occupation. This would finally put Putin on the back foot and force him to reconsider his war.

Instead, Trump tells Republican legislators to defeat an emerging bipartisan bill in the Senate that would link Ukraine aid to detailed protections for the southern border — a compromise demanded by the GOP. Meantime, the MAGA crowd pursues a circus impeachment vote against Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

There are no two ways to describe the current degradation of the Republican Party. The now party of Trump seeks to open a new Mideast war that would harm Americans and Israel — but godfathers defeat in a war that Ukraine could win.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist for the The Philadelphia Inquirer. ©2024 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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