Once again, the power brokers in Washington, DC are signaling that in American politics, there is no room for debate on big issues, there is only one right answer. (Image source: Capitol via Wikimedia Commons; man via iStock)
Within hours of 11 Republican Senators voting to delay proceeding with the roughly $40 billion Ukraine aid package, and days after 57 Republicans voted against the package in the House, the name calling has begun. "Isolationists!" Others characterized those who opposed the measure as "politicizing" the issue. Once again, the power brokers in DC are signaling that in American politics there is no room for debate on big issues, there is only one right answer.
You would think that after crushing debate on theories about the origin of the COVID virus; the national security hazards of our open border that permits suspected terrorists, human trafficking and lethal drugs that last year alone killed more than 107,000 in America to pour in, or shutting down discussion of the Hunter Biden laptop, leaders would realize that open debate, and even dissent, is actually a strength of our system, not a weakness.
Consider that Senator Rand Paul made a simple argument against rapid approval of the $40 billion package -- that there should be an inspector general to oversee and monitor how the $40 billion is spent. This is not an unreasonable request considering the reports of massive amounts of fraud and waste of taxpayer dollars with COVID relief funds. In many instances, where the money went -- or whether it was effective -- cannot be identified. Too often our legislative leaders forget that they are spending taxpayer money, and that with government spending even for benefits, there is no such thing as "free" anything. When there is no accountability, it is easy to spend someone else's money.
A second major argument against a rush into spending comes in the form of a simple question: where are our European allies? It seems that there is a lot of discussion about the strength and unity of NATO in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine. But beyond rhetoric, is NATO more than the hollowed-out shell that former President Donald J. Trump alleged? The alliance was built on the backs of the American taxpayer, who footed the bill for European security and stability. After many of our NATO allies refused to meet their defense spending commitments and built the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, increasing their reliance on Russian energy supplies, are they once again counting on Americans to bail them out?
Currently, it is the Europeans that led the charge to help Ukraine after Russia attacked it. We all would do well to remember the costly lesson from the 1930s: how quickly Hitler's invasion of the Sudetenland spread to most of Europe.
The U.S. already has committed or spent roughly $16 billion on Ukrainian assistance. Europe collectively has spent roughly $7 billion. Debating whether the U.S. taxpayer should once again foot the bill to bailout Europe is a legitimate question that is worthy of congressional debate. Even today, sadly, Germany, the largest economy in Europe, and the Netherlands are once again debating whether they can and will meet their NATO spending commitments. Even though for their own well-being they should spend more for European security, these are legitimate, internal debates for their governments to have. It should be the same in America.
While serving as the Ambassador to the Netherlands, I frequently was asked why President Trump did not support NATO. The response was easy. Trump and American taxpayers wanted to know why so many European countries did not support NATO. Even as the war in Ukraine threatens Europe, and the Russians threaten European energy supplies, there are those in Europe who are still debating whether they should meet their NATO-treaty-obligated defense commitments. But in the U.S., it is frowned upon by some even to discuss why we are investing in European security and stability.
Finally, there is the issue of American needs. During my days in Congress, as many of us wanted to invest in defense spending, we were faced with an ultimatum from the Democrats. For every $1 increase in defense spending, there had to be a matching $1 increase in social spending. No discussion about the need for that spending, just this as an expected process.
What are we getting in return for going along with defending Ukraine's borders? Will there be an increase in U.S. border security as more than 200,000 people swarm across our borders every month? It is a fair question for American taxpayers to ask why we are funding Ukrainian border security but not our own.
Finally, why does this need to be new borrowing and new expenditures? In our massive federal spending plans, can't we find $40 billion to cut somewhere to fund this aid? The federal government is on pace to spend over $6 trillion in 2022, so you would think they could find some programs to cut to fund Ukrainian aid. Not in Washington. They only increase spending, not make tough decisions about shifting priorities as the world changes. This is unfortunate -- and ultimately devastating to the national security funding we must have if we are successfully to deter the potential threats to the US and the Free World by China.
Borrowing $40 billion is a debate worth having. These are all reasonable policy questions that our Congress should consider. Putting in place a watchdog to monitor this spending seems a reasonable request. Asking our European allies to honor their pledges of 2% of their GDP in defense spending also seems not an unreasonable request. Funding some of our own priorities at home further seems a matter that should be discussed.
Yet it seems as if the power brokers in Washington would prefer to start name-calling their opponents and avoid having to defend their positions. This does not make our country stronger. It makes it weaker. We still have time -- but not much -- to engage in a serious debate on this issue. If we do not, we shall miss a real opportunity to prioritize what is crucial for the literal survival of our republic and what is not.
Peter Hoekstra was US Ambassador to the Netherlands during the Trump administration. He served 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the second district of Michigan and served as Chairman and Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. He is currently Chairman of the Center for Security Policy Board of Advisors.