The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Bad Arguments in Support of Bad Policy

Posted on | February 20, 2024 | Comments Off on Bad Arguments in Support of Bad Policy

“Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true.”
Homer Simpson

Saturday will mark the two-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the good news, I suppose, is that Russia didn’t succeed in capturing Kyiv and conquering Ukraine entirely. This must be balanced against the bad news, namely that Russia has succeeded in conquering most of the Donbas region, as well as a substantial part of southern Ukraine. The war has become largely a stalemate, with both sides entrenched and battling for relatively small gains. When the Ukrainians finally pulled out of Avdiivka over the weekend, Reuters noted it was Russia’s “biggest gain in nine months.” Nine months to take one relatively minor crossroads town north of Donetsk — scarcely evidence of Russian military prowess. At the same time, however, Ukraine’s failure to hold the town could be cited as evidence of Ukrainian weakness, but instead it’s being used by the Biden administration as a cudgel to blame Republicans for opposing unlimited aid to Ukraine.

We are expected to believe that Russia would not have taken Avdiivka if Congress had greenlighted whatever spending the Biden administration asked for, so that the GOP is essentially being accused of aiding Putin. This “argument” isn’t actually an argument at all; instead it’s just a retread of the old “Russian collusion” smear. Michael Brendan Dougherty has endeavored to clarify the situation:

Last week the Senate passed a foreign-aid bill including over $60 billion in weapons and munitions to be made in the U.S. and donated to Ukraine. There are obvious questions to raise about this. Given that this is less money for fewer weapons than were sent to power last year’s counteroffensive, how does the U.S. expect this to change the situation on the ground in Ukraine? Can anyone really say the bill increases America’s military-industrial readiness if it further commits America to a conflict that is devouring munitions faster than we can produce them?
Instead of answering these questions, Republican senators who supported the appropriation set about characterizing their opponents and anyone who doubts the utility of more aid to Ukraine as ignoramuses or the victims of demagogues, or implying that they were deficient in love of country.
Senator Mitt Romney blamed manipulation: “The shock jocks and online instigators have effectively riled up many in the far reaches of my party.” Far reaches? But polls have shown for a very long time that a majority of Republican voters oppose more aid to Ukraine. Many more Republican voters oppose this than regularly listen to shock jocks. . . .

Read the whole thing. The attempt to turn this into some sort of patriotic referendum — if you don’t support this bill, you don’t love America, we are told — suggests that there are no strictly factual or logical arguments in favor of the current policy. Why would you need to resort to impugning the motives of opponents, if you had facts and logic on your side? And it’s worth pointing out that many Republican opponents of the Biden policy aren’t anti-Ukraine (or pro-Russian), but are simply trying to leverage this as part of a deal to get some kind of action toward securing our own borders. Because, believe it or not, there are actually some Republicans in Congress who are listening to what their constituents are saying: “Why should we keep spending billions to defend Ukraine against foreign invasion, if we’re not going to defend America against foreign invasion?”

Furthermore — and here I want to avoid getting too far into the tall grass of military/geopolitical details — the biggest problem that Ukraine is facing cannot be solved by pouring in more U.S. taxpayer dollars. Ukraine’s biggest problem in its war against Russia is a shortage of military manpower. Last spring (“Pentagon Leak Confirms Ukraine Suffering Shortage of Trained Manpower,” April 12) I tried to call attention to this problem, which had started becoming apparent to me in late 2022. Even if we could give Ukraine all the weapons they need, the manpower shortage would still make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to mount an effective counter-offensive against Russia.

Merely throwing money at Ukraine’s problems won’t fix the problems. One consequence of the Russian invasion has been the discovery that the United States and its allies lack the capacity to manufacture enough artillery ammunition and other supplies in sufficient quantities quickly enough to meet an emergency demand. It doesn’t matter how many billions of dollars Congress votes to spend, we’re still not going to be able to put enough equipment into Ukraine to make complete victory over Russia a reality this year, or next year, or the year after that.

Looking on the bright side, Russia’s military resources have been severely degraded by the long war in Ukraine, so that it’s not like Russian tanks will be rolling into Kyiv any time soon. But in terms of ejecting the Russian army from the Donbas, that’s just not a feasible near-term goal, and Biden’s policy can’t change that reality. Do the Republicans in the Senate who want to write a blank check to Ukraine understand this? I haven’t seen any evidence that they do, but at the same time, my cynical hunch is that many of them are just eager to do whatever the lobbyists for defense contractors want. And while I’m not against fat contracts for Lockheed, Raytheon, General Dynamics, etc. — the Military-Industrial Complex provides a lot of good-paying jobs for U.S. workers — that doesn’t overcome my aversion to hearing people make dishonest arguments in favor of bad policy. Tell the people the truth, stop smearing your critics as traitors, and try to win arguments on the basis of facts.


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