Republicans Continue to Embrace Democracy

Republicans Continue to Embrace Democracy

April 15, 2023

Daniel Henninger’s critical article of Republicans “Is Democracy a Dirty Word Now?” (Wall Street Journal, April 12) is morally heartening and idealistic but naïve and impractical. It reflects a classic view of an expired era heavy on myth and light on reality. Republicans, unlike what Henninger believes, will always embrace democracy. The United States is seen as the city on a hill radiating thousands of rays of light for all people to see.

That’s how the United States was admired by foes and friends alike. But Republicans came to understand that democracy cannot be imposed or built on paper pillars. To say, as Henninger implied, that the waste of resources on Iraq and Afghanistan inserted wrenches in the wheel of American devotion to democracy is foolhardy. Republicans reconsidered the idea (and ideal) of wasting priceless human resources and hard-earned money of American taxpayers on democratic undertakings in lands not yet ready for a growth spurt of democracy.

In the name of democracy channeled through military interventions thousands were killed, adversaries prospered and became emboldened, fragile landscapes became hostile, and the halo of American righteousness faded in the shadow of American unipolarity and Abu Ghraib.

Has Henninger considered how Americans were viewed before and after the US invasion and occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan? Has he considered how these wars affected the global geopolitical position of the United States? From Brazil across, above, and below the equator to India many have come to believe that America is the most single danger to democracy and global peace! American foreign policy establishment has put the cart before the horse in supporting democracy overseas.

Henninger painted a picture of Republicans snuggling up to Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-we, supporting Taiwan’s independence against an invasion by China. Nevertheless, he questioned how could Tsai believe American commitment to Taiwan when Ukraine is steadily losing favor among Republicans only a year after the beginning of its war to repel Russia’s invasion.

He cites Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s comment that the war with Russia is a “territorial dispute” as a view shared by Republican conservatives and some European leaders. He sees that in addition to the U.S., France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholtz perceive that Ukraine needs to make a territorial compromise with Russia over Crimea and the Donetsk region. He vicariously asks Tsai and President of Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky the question: Will the Americans and Western Europeans find a way to sell us out?

He frames this “sell out” stance in juxtaposition to the ardent support for Ukraine from its neighbors, the Eastern European democracies. Henninger emphasizes that what’s very much alive for Ukraine’s neighbors is what happened at Yalta in 1945. He wrote that meeting “with Joseph Stalin in the Crimean resort town, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill effectively consigned the nations of eastern Europe to 40 years of life under communist rule.” These countries don’t want to see that happen again. “But Vladimir Putin wants it on the table,” he asserts.

Clearly, Henninger is shaming the West, especially United States’s Republicans, for attempting to sell out Ukraine (most likely Taiwan as well) and threatening the democracies of Eastern European countries. This is an exercise in historic and intellectual ignorance and distortion.

Roosevelt and Churchill did not consign Eastern Europe to Stalin. Stalin fought his way into Eastern Europe after repelling at a staggering cost the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The crushing of World War II’s largest blitzkrieg attack against Moscow largely decided the outcome of the war and paved the way for the Western alliance’s landing at Normandy. Russia lost over 24 million people in this war.

Nevertheless, no sooner than the war ended, the Cold War set in, whereupon Washington tried to free Eastern Europe from the clutches of communism. The Berlin Wall came crashing down thanks in large measure to President Ronald Reagan’s anti-communist efforts. That’s not sell out! That’s helping out!

The idea Henninger is disseminating that pressuring Ukraine to negotiate the end of the war will not only whet the appetite Putin to pocket Donetsk and Crimea but also to seize more territory is intentionally misguiding. Russian forces fared poorly against Ukraine’s patriotic defense and were pushed back to Crimea and Donbas region. Herein lay the danger of supporting Ukraine’s counteroffensive to retake these territories.

These territories have historically been a center of gravity of Moscow, projecting its power in the warm waters of the Black Sea and in the restive caucuses. Putin and senior Russian officials have been clear about repelling any conventional offensive with nuclear weapons. It’s mind boggling that Henninger does not even mention the possibility that nuclear weapons may be used.

He concludes his criticism of Republicans by emphasizing that with the “odor of a Yalta sellout drifting through the Republican Party, the time is now to start debating where the GOP leadership or its presidential candidates stand on the expressed desire of Taiwan and Ukraine for help to preserve their democracies.” Obviously, Henninger’s conclusion smacks of both disdain for Republicans and of craving for continuing the war until Russia is defeated. This is sheer madness entailing the destruction of Ukraine, possible spillover of the war, and almost certainly Russian use of nuclear weapons.

Indeed Republicans should debate the war and its consequences. To be sure, some Republicans have asserted their support for Ukraine as long as it takes to win the war, and have equated the fight over Ukraine with the fight over freedom. This is a reckless and dangerous stance not taking into consideration the risk of wrecking Ukraine, sparking world war III, and undermining irretrievably American global position. Although the Ukraine war is partly about freedom, it is essentially the product of Western geopolitical and strategic mistakes including the expansion of Nato to the doorstep of Russia and attempt to encircle Moscow.

George Kennan, the dean of Russian experts and author of American containment of the Soviet Union, confessed in 1997 “that expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.” Significantly, the Ukraine war has hastened the process by which many countries, led by China and Russia, have sought to reshape the international order into a multipolar one partly to undermine American global preeminence, including de-dollarizing the global market.

Venezuela china
Venezuela china

Conversely, if expanding Nato was the most fateful error of American policy, then the Western alliance’s policy of pushing Russia into the arms of China was the most fateful strategic blunder of American policy. Russia and China have certainly sealed a strategic alliance premised on their mutual belief that United States poses an existential threat to their national security interests. This China-led united front, bringing together the largest country in the world with the largest resources and largest inventory of nuclear warheads with the fourth largest country in the world with the second largest economy in the world and sophisticated fire power, can neither be underestimated nor neglected in favor of harnessing American power and resources against Russia.

Fortunately, a group of Republicans, disillusioned with the failed ideas of ensuring peace through American strength and promotion of democracy or through a global free market order, have embraced a realist approach to foreign policy. Theirs is a realism reconciled with American exceptionalism to protect the international order and safeguard American preeminent global position. Standing at the vanguard of this group is Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and the conservative intellectual Eldridge Colby.

Both leaders are challenging decades of American interventionism and crusades for democracy detached from reality. They internalized the strategic threat of China, limits of American power, and the importance of understanding history, geography and geopolitics in formulating American foreign policy. They understood that wrecking Ukraine will not help Ukraine and crusading for Anglo-American liberalism to the exclusion of other ideologies and cultural norms risks strategic self-defeat.

So indeed Republicans need to debate the Ukraine war within the context of how Americans could better serve world peace, democracy, and safeguard American national interests. In this respect, it falls to this author that Republicans should heed DeSantis and Colby’s views, support a cease fire in Ukraine and get Kyiv into the European Union, and form an alliance to rein in China by persuading it that going to war with United States is more harmful than beneficial to its national interest.

On a final note, if history is an indicator, democracy and its attendant universal values of freedom and happiness cannot flourish among the hungry, the vulnerable, the displaced, and the dead.

Robert G. Rabil is a professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University. He can be reached via @robertgrabil and The views expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect those at FAU.

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