Will America let Ukraine collapse?

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (Photo by Kent Nishimura / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP) (Getty Images via AFP)
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (Photo by Kent Nishimura / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP) (Getty Images via AFP)

Summary

Speaker Mike Johnson is stepping up. Failure would haunt U.S. security—and the GOP.

Speaker Mike Johnson is forging ahead to pass a bill to support Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, despite threats from his right rump to topple him. He’s correct on the policy merits, and he deserves support from Members of both parties given what a potential Ukrainian defeat would mean for U.S. national security.

Mr. Johnson’s plan is to break the aid bill that has already passed the Senate into four parts—one each on Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, and one that packages various Republican policy priorities such as seizing Russian assets. Those that pass will be packaged and sent back to the Senate. He hopes for votes on Saturday, which means Members can’t complain they weren’t given the promised 72-hour notice to read the bills.

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The need is urgent because Ukraine’s position is deteriorating. Ukrainian shortages in air defenses are letting the Russian military dominate the air for the first time in two years. Ukraine’s cities are at risk, and its defenses could take down only seven of 11 Russian projectiles in a recent volley at a power plant. The other four destroyed the plant.

Ukraine has lowered the conscription age to 25 from 27, and the manpower is sorely needed. But even the Ukrainians, who have demonstrated that they don’t want to live under Vladimir Putin’s boot, will wonder about manning a front line if they lack the ammo to shoot back at the enemy.

“Ukraine cannot hold the present lines now without the rapid resumption" of American help, as Fred Kagan noted in a Tuesday report at the Institute for the Study of War. Only the U.S. has the stocks to provide weapons quickly and in the numbers required. The Russians have seized an area roughly the size of Detroit since January, and a Russian breakthrough is possible by summer.

The House Republicans who are threatening to oust Mr. Johnson over Ukraine imagine that they can defeat aid and return without consequence to pounding Joe Biden about the crisis at the southern border. They are wrong, and the sad irony is that such delusions about the world are usually reserved for the progressive left.

On current trend the Kremlin will eventually win the war, and Mr. Putin won’t be satisfied with Ukraine’s east. He wants to subdue the entire country, as he planned when he first tried to take Kyiv. He has no incentive to negotiate now that he thinks the U.S. may abandon Ukraine.

What would it mean for the Russians to control an enormous new border with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization? Mr. Putin would be in a far stronger position to invade the Baltic states, which he also views as rogue Russian provinces. And that’s for starters. Those who think Mr. Putin wouldn’t dare confront NATO have consistently misunderstood the Russian dictator’s ambitions. They are the same crowd that assured us Mr. Putin wouldn’t dare go for Kyiv in 2022.

Even if Mr. Putin isn’t yet ready to take on the West, NATO would still be forced to prepare for the possibility—and deter it. If Mr. Putin controls Ukraine, “NATO must expect to face large Russian conventional forces along its entire border from the Black Sea to the Arctic," as Mr. Kagan puts it. The maps nearby illustrate the difference for NATO and Russian military deployments depending on who wins in Ukraine.

That threat would require an enormous change in defense posture on the European continent on par with the Cold War. More U.S. troops, jets, air-defense batteries, tanks and surveillance aircraft would be needed to harden the alliance’s eastern front.

Those assets wouldn’t then be available to manage the Pacific threat from China, which Ukraine’s GOP critics claim is their priority. Don’t expect Europeans to heed U.S. pleas to curb their relationships with China after the U.S. leaves a mess in their backyard. This is not a situation Donald Trump should want to inherit if he wins in November.

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Mr. Johnson has so far been staring down the rump caucus that wants to remove him from power, and he is right to do so. They won’t respect him more if he capitulates. If his plan fails, the fallback is a discharge petition that would force a floor vote on the Senate bill. That is better than abandoning Ukraine, and we hope enough Republicans would support it if their colleagues kill the other bills.

Mr. Biden, for his part, has an obligation to bring along Democrats on the aid bill, and his op-ed in these pages is welcome, albeit late in shaping the debate.

Amid all the political infighting on Capitol Hill, Republicans have a binary choice between helping America’s friends in Kyiv or abandoning them to Mr. Putin’s empire. The latter would be a disaster for the United States, and the GOP will own it as thoroughly as Democrats owned the collapse of Saigon in 1975.

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