Why Republicans Are Defending Israel and Ignoring Ukraine

On April 13, the Islamic Republic of Iran launched missiles and drones at Israel. Also on April 13, as well as on April 12, 14, and 15, the Russian Federation launched missiles and drones at Ukraine—including some designed in Iran.

Few of the weapons launched by Iran hit their mark. Instead, American and European airplanes, alongside Israeli and even Jordanian airplanes, knocked the drones and missiles out of the sky.

By contrast, some of the attacks launched by Russia did destroy their targets. Ukraine, acting alone, and—thanks to the Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives—running short on defensive ammunition, was unable to knock all of the drones and missiles out of the sky. On April 12 Russian strikes badly damaged an energy facility in Dnipropetrovsk. On April 13, a 61-year-old woman and 68-year-old man were killed by a Russian strike in Kharkiv. On April 14, an aerial bomb hit an apartment building in Ocheretyne, killing one and injuring two. On April 15, a Russian guided missile hit a school and killed at least two more people in the Kharkiv region.  

[Eliot A. Cohen: The ‘Israel model’ won’t work for Ukraine]

Why the difference in reaction? Why did American and European jets scramble to help Israel, but not Ukraine? Why doesn’t Ukraine have enough matériel to defend itself? One difference is the balance of nuclear power. Russia has nuclear weapons, and its propagandists periodically threaten to use them. That has made the U.S. and Europe reluctant to enter the skies over Ukraine. Israel also has nuclear weapons, but that affects the calculus in a different way: It means that the U.S., Europe, and even some Arab states are eager to make sure that Israel is never provoked enough to use them, or indeed to use any serious conventional weapons, against Iran.

A second difference between the two conflicts is that the Republican Party remains staunchly resistant to propaganda coming from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Leading Republicans do not sympathize with the mullahs, do not repeat their talking points, and do not seek to appease them when they make outrageous claims about other countries. That enables the Biden administration to rush to the aid of Israel, because no serious opposition will follow.

By contrast, a part of the Republican Party, including its presidential candidate, does sympathize with the Russian dictatorship, does repeat its talking points, and does seek to appease Russia when it invades and occupies other countries. The absence of bipartisan solidarity around Ukraine means that the Republican congressional leadership has prevented the Biden administration from sending even defensive weapons and ammunition to Ukraine. The Biden administration appears to feel constrained and unable to provide Ukraine with the spontaneous assistance that it just provided to Israel.

Open sympathy for the war aims of the Russian state is rarely stated out loud. Instead, some leading Republicans have begun, in the past few months, to argue that Ukraine should “shift to a defensive war,” to give up any hope of retaining their occupied territory, or else stop fighting altogether. Senator J. D. Vance of Ohio, in a New York Times essay written in what can only be described as extraordinary bad faith, made exactly this argument just last week. So too, for example, did Republican Representative Eli Crane of Arizona, who has said that military aid for Ukraine “should be totally off the table and replaced with a push for peace talks.”

[Eliot A. Cohen: The war is not going well for Ukraine]

But Ukraine is already fighting a defensive war. The matériel that the Republicans are refusing to send includes—let me repeat it again—defensive munitions. There is no evidence whatsoever that cutting off any further aid to Ukraine would end the fighting or bring peace talks. On the contrary, all of the evidence indicates that blocking aid would allow Russia to advance faster, take more territory, and eventually murder far more Ukrainians, as Vance and Crane surely know. Without wanting to put it that boldly, they seem already to see themselves in some kind of alliance with Russia, and therefore they want Ukraine to be defeated. They do not see themselves in alliance with Iran, despite the fact that Iran and Russia would regard one another as partners.

For the rest of the world, there are some lessons here. Plenty of countries, perhaps including Ukraine and Iran, will draw the first and most obvious conclusion: Nuclear weapons make you much safer. Not only can you deter attack with a nuclear shield, and not only can you attack other countries with comparative impunity, but you can also, under certain circumstances, expect others to join in your defense.

Perhaps others will draw the other obvious conclusion: A part of the Republican Party—one large enough to matter—can be co-opted, lobbied, or purchased outright. Not only can you get it to repeat your propaganda; you can get it to act directly in your interests. This probably doesn’t cost even a fraction of the price of tanks and artillery, and it can be far more effective.

No doubt many will make use of both of these lessons in the future.

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