On Ukraine and Disturbing Political Litmus Tests

On Ukraine and Disturbing Political Litmus Tests
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

The war in Ukraine continues to rage after Russia’s illegal invasion threw the Eastern European country into turmoil. Who is actually “winning” is an argument that rages on social media while the real-world answers remain incredibly muddled. There is no doubt that Russia’s advances have been hit with stiff resistance and that losses have been higher than expected.

Then there’s the war raging back in the United States over how one views the conflict, not necessarily regarding who is “good” or “bad” (polls show a near-universal preference for Ukraine in the conflict if forced to choose), but rather in what the response should be, both practically and rhetorically.

In some ways, it feels like we are back in 2004, though, the roles have changed a bit. For some on the right, any criticism of Ukraine or suggestion that the United States should do anything but prioritize opposition of Russia is considered “treasonous.” Recently, Mitt Romney tried that gambit, viciously attacking Tulsi Gabbard by falsely insinuating she said something that she didn’t say. And of course, Adam Kinzinger is always good as an example of pure idiocy on this front.

Let’s talk about that mindset because I find it really disturbing and dangerous, and it is not at all limited to quacks like Kinzinger.

To start, I think it’s important to state where I stand. I am not an isolationist when it comes to foreign policy, and on matters of principle, some might find me fairly hawkish. Yet, I’m also much more nuanced in how I view situations than your average neoconservative. For example, I think the push to fund the civil war in Syria was a despicable miscalculation by overzealous American politicians which only helped hundreds of thousands of deaths. I must be an anti-war, pro-dictator zealot, right? But I also think Afghanistan was a just war, that opposing Vladimir Putin is good, and that using strategic strikes such as the one on Iran’s Soleimani is acceptable and smart. So what does that make me? I guess it depends on who you ask.

Yet, there is a segment on the right that has made Ukraine a litmus test that I’m just not comfortable with. Obviously, Kinzinger and Romney are the extremes of that, accusing people of capital crimes for daring to state true information they find inconvenient. But here’s also the slightly less subtle version of that which tends to involve screaming “Putin puppet” at anyone who suggests anything but an absolutist approach to Russia.

I can disagree with someone’s opinion that Ukraine should give up more than the status quo to stop the fighting without labeling them a foreign agent. I can believe that extreme isolationism may lead to bigger problems down the road without completely discounting valid points on the other side as “propaganda.” Last I checked, the United States is still a country founded on the idea of freedom of speech, and labeling fellow Americans as good or evil based on their view of a conflict halfway around the world that doesn’t directly involve us is incredibly illiberal. Whatever one thinks of Russia and how we should oppose Putin, there should be room for disagreement without shouting “traitor.”

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