“America First” in Ukraine

Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an argument against the United States supporting Ukraine financially and militarily has circulated that I would loosely describe as “America First.” This argument typically has two complementary assertions, (1) that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine does not pose a danger to the vital interests of the United States and (2) that instead of sending financial and military aid to Ukraine the United States should be expending those resources shoring up our porous border with Mexico.

I think the first argument has already been demonstrated to be untenable and the second argument will in the not too distant future prove to be even more untenable.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, even if stripped of all moral and emotional arguments, is a direct threat to the interests of the United States because it threatens to curtail and disrupt the flow of goods and services that help to make the United States the richest and most powerful nation in the world. Putin has made it clear, especially with his recent waxing nostalgic for Peter the Great, that he intends to expend Russia’s material and human resources expanding Russian territory. All of Europe knows what that means. All of Europe knows that their militaries must be strengthened to counteract the newly realized threat. The “peace dividend” that came to Europe and the United States following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the disintegration of the Soviet Union is no more.

Some argue that the economic disruption is not caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but the West’s reaction to it, namely sanctions. Putin was only going to stop attacking other nations after invading Ukraine if there was a cost imposed on Russia for his invasion. The West did not want to impose a military cost due to the threat of the conflict escalating into a nuclear war so instead the West imposed an economic cost. Sanctions were the negative consequence the West decided to impose on Russia. If there had been no negative consequence, outside of what the overmatched Ukrainian people were able to impose, Russia under Putin most certainly would not have stopped at Ukraine. The economic disruption caused by an unchecked, nuclear armed, and emboldened Russia, would have been even more immense than what we have now.

Even though the destruction has been mostly limited to Ukraine, the economic consequences have been severe and will only get worse if Russia continues upon a policy of militaristic expansion. Russia has shown little hesitancy in threatening, often in a veiled manner, military action against their near neighbors and others. Putin’s Russia has demonstrated that they will use the demand for their gas and oil to try to coerce their clients to bend to their dictates. Russia’s efforts to force others to do their bidding by military force will and must disrupt the movement of goods and services throughout Europe and by extension the rest of the world, of which the United States is a part.

We’ve already seen this most clearly with the disruption in the movement of Ukrainian grain as Russia has captured or closed Ukraine’s ports, keeping the Ukrainians from exporting these vital foodstuffs. By stopping Ukraine from exporting their grain Russia has cause the price to rise and threatened hunger to tens of millions who relied on this grain for their daily bread. The economic, social, political and military costs of increasingly widespread food shortages will impose a cost on the citizens of the United States despite the fact we import very little ourselves directly from Ukraine.

Which brings us to the second part of the “America First” argument, strengthening the border with Mexico.

I do believe that our porous border with Mexico has caused problems in the United States and should be made more efficient. The problem in my mind is not immigration per se, because I think that the United States can handle an influx of people and that such an influx of people is in the long run more of a benefit than a detriment. I also do not have a problem with much of that influx coming from Mexico or other countries in Central and South America. I do not believe these peoples are inherently less desirable than my ancestors or other peoples who have come to this land over the last almost five hundred years. I do have an issue, though, with allowing people to enter this country unimpeded and without vetting, which is what happens when people enter this country illegally. There has to be a criteria and a procedure and it has to be the procedure and criteria the citizens of the United States agree upon through their elected representatives, not what others think is their right.

With that said, not supporting Ukraine financially and/or militarily, even if every dime is otherwise earmarked toward hardening our border with Mexico or other interdiction efforts, is not going to protect the citizens of the United States from unfettered immigration, but is instead going to serve to worsen the problem.

As stated above, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made it so that millions of tons of grain cannot get to the people who rely on it for their daily bread. Those people who rely on that grain inevitably will see their ability to feed themselves and their families lessened, many to the point of starvation. Starving people will always move to find food. Mothers and fathers will not sit and watch their children starve to death, they will move to try to find food to feed their children. The pressure this movement of people will inevitably create on our border with Mexico will not be able to be staunched by the highest of walls. No realistic number of border guards will be able to stem the flow of people either. The only way to release the pressure of those untold millions who face starvation because Ukrainian grain is holed up in Ukraine is to find a way to get that grain to those who need it. The United States’ selfish interests are served by helping Ukrainian grain feed the starving masses. That can only be achieve by helping Ukraine financially and/or militarily.

The United States has a vested interest in deterring Putin and Russia in pursuing their expansionist goals and in helping Ukraine to get their grain to those who rely upon it for their daily bread. We are not putting America first by not imposing negative consequences on Russia for their invasion of Ukraine. Likewise, we are also helping ourselves by helping Ukraine move their grain to help feed the world’s starving masses.