The most divisive issue among Republicans today is what to do about Ukraine. It pits establishment Republican hawks against MAGA Republicans. It’s holding up a final budget agreement. GOP candidates spar over it in debates and hurl insults at each other. They all agree on what to do about the economy, what to do about the southern border, what to do about woke culture. But they can’t agree on what to do about Ukraine.
Conventional wisdom insists there are only two options with Ukraine– we’re either all in or all out. Either the U.S. spends tens of billions a year, indefinitely, to supply Ukraine’s military and keep their government afloat with no clear path to victory; or we cut off funding and leave Europeans to deal with the problem, knowing that Ukraine will likely fall to Russia.
They’re both lousy, unacceptable options. It’s time to find a third option that will satisfy both sides of the divide.
That’s what Reagan did in the 1980s with the Soviet Union. The conventional wisdom of his day believed there were only two options in dealing with the Soviet Union – a forever Cold War, or capitulation. Reagan rejected both. He said his policy was simple: We win, they lose.
Reagan had no intention of fighting a hot war. Rather, we would win by bankrupting the Soviet Union and force its leaders to negotiate an end to the Cold War – on our terms. It worked.
We can do the same today. We can bankrupt Russia and force it to negotiate an end to the Ukraine War. Neither side would “win” and get everything it wants, but each would get enough to live with. Ukraine could begin rebuilding and win the peace.
The problem is none of the Republican candidates have figured it out yet, and the Biden Democrats and Republican establishment hawks never will. They have too much invested in another forever war. Forever wars are big business in Washington – both for campaign contributions and virtue signaling. But regardless of their chest-beating rhetoric, no one seriously believes Putin will throw up his hands in defeat and slink his forces back to Moscow. So long as he has the funds, he will fight on. So will Ukraine. Another forever war.
Far better, and easier, to take away Putin’s piggybank. Bankrupting Russia today is even easier than it was in Reagan’s day. Today, Russia gets about a third of its budget from oil and gas exports. Historically, when energy prices were high, Russia (and the USSR before it) built up its military, fought proxy wars, and invaded its neighbors. When energy prices were low, Moscow hunkered down and struggled to feed its people.
Reagan understood that which is why he convinced the Saudis to pump more oil and drive down prices in the 1980s. It was simple supply and demand. Oil prices went from $40 to $18 dollars a barrel in nine months. Suddenly, the Soviet Union’s energy revenues were cut in half. They could barely afford to feed their people. Continuing an expensive arms race with the U.S. was impossible.
The proof is what’s happened in the last ten years. Oil prices were $100/barrel in 2008 – Putin invaded Georgia. Oil prices were nearly as high in 2014 – Russia annexed Crimea. When oil prices fell to $40/barrel from 2016-20 during the Trump years, Russia couldn’t afford to go to war. President Biden reversed course, put handcuffs on U.S. energy producers, and surprise, surprise – prices skyrocketed. When prices went back up to $100 – Putin invaded Ukraine.
If we were to take the shackles off US energy industry, we could produce and export cheap, abundant, safe, environmentally responsible natural gas and oil. Not only would we be energy independent again, which is great for our economy. We would also be energy dominant.
We could set global prices for energy, and drive prices down. We could once again bankrupt Russia. Putin would have no choice but to negotiate an end to the Ukraine war.
Then neither side “wins” the Ukraine War. A negotiated agreement would give each side enough to live with, but not everything they want. It might not be morally satisfying, given how bravely Ukrainians have fought, and how evil Putin has been. But a negotiated agreement would set the stage Ukraine time to win the peace.
As soon as a Republican candidate figures that out, he or she is well-placed to bring together both sides of the party’s divide. And will be very well-placed to defeat a Democrat whose main foreign policy platform is another forever war.