Greene’s call for an end to Ukraine aid isn’t about the money

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Speeches delivered at Donald Trump’s rallies are not known for detailed presentations of carefully considered policy proposals. That’s why people go to rallies in general, of course, less than this particular type of rally. Attendees show up to show their support for Republican candidates — and hear boos from the political left.

Here’s the context in which we should consider Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-Ga.) contribution to Thursday’s rally in Iowa: Her arguments about funding the war in Ukraine were political rhetoric, not considered analysis. Rather, the question is what political goal they intend to advance.

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Green’s reference to Ukraine stems from a riff about the border. Green accused Democrats and the news media of ignoring a “crime spree” involving undocumented immigrants, including “every day drug addicts across our borders are being poisoned by fentanyl.” One of the reasons you’re hearing so much about fentanyl this year is that overdose deaths have increased as reported by the media. Another reason is that Republicans are using the fear of fentanyl as a way to hit Democrats on border policies — although most fentanyl is smuggled through existing border checkpoints, often by US citizens.

Regardless, that was the setup for her comments about US spending to help Ukraine.

“Democrats have opened our borders wide open,” he said in Iowa. “But the only border they care about is Ukraine, not America’s southern border. Under the Republicans, not a penny goes to Ukraine. Our country comes first.

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See the leap of logic there? From “Democrats are more concerned about Ukraine’s border” to “We shouldn’t be spending in Ukraine”. It’s not clear how one follows from the other, but consistency on such matters is not how Green has built his political reputation.

While not the GOP’s official position, Green’s “not another penny” line was met with some applause. Not surprisingly, polls have shown increased Republican skepticism about aid to Ukraine in its war against Russian aggressors. As Aaron Blake of the Washington Post noted Thursday, About half Republicans now think the United States is supporting Ukraine.

But the United States is doing relatively little — especially when considering the historical context of the effort, which includes Russian aggression.

US defense spending has increased dramatically since the end of the Cold War, a period during which US opposition to Russian power was more overt. This is largely due to increased spending following the 9/11 attacks, including the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But because the cost has increased broadly and because of inflation. Relative to total government expenditure, defense expenditure (here meaning Department of Defense Expenditure) has been fairly flat.

As a percentage of total expenditures, defense spending is much lower now than it was during the Cold War era. It has fallen in recent years, though, thanks in part to a surge in spending aimed at containing the coronavirus.

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Why is this context important? Because countering Moscow’s expansionism (and communism more broadly) was a central point of Cold War-era spending. With a small fraction of the federal budget and low relative defense spending, the United States has been very effective in deterring Russia’s expansionist designs in Ukraine.

The United States has committed less than $18 billion to the conflict since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, according to a Congressional Research Service analysis updated late last month. Here’s how it stacks up with defense spending since the early 1960s.

It is not a Defense Department expenditure. It includes funding from the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing Program. This is not all expenditure approved. During Trump’s first impeachment in 2019 — the last time the country’s attention was focused on Ukraine — the government had a two-step process for spending. There is appropriation, which means Congress clears money to spend and then spends itself. In total, about $28 billion is appropriated for assistance to Ukraine in fiscal years 2022 and 2023 (the fiscal year begins in early October).

If we compare those figures to total 2022 spending, spending in Ukraine looks like this.

Look, $28 billion is a lot of money to you or me, sure. (Well, I guess.) It’s not really much for the US government. Yet, these numbers are quoted outside the context of all federal spending, which makes the United States seem dangerously corrupt. But that’s a rhetorical point, often aimed at lower spending rather than a focus on spending — as Green is doing here.

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Remember that Green, like others on the fringe right, has been sympathetic to Russia’s position since the beginning of the conflict. In March, he said in a Facebook video that the United States should not help defend Ukraine. She framed this as humanitarianism: extending the conflict meant more death.

“It is not our responsibility to give [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky and the Ukrainian people have false hope of a war they can’t win,” he said – which is certainly poor old age. Later, she claimed the government was spending in Ukraine instead of the border, and even then she was wrong.

That speech included other false claims and denigrations of Ukraine. Green went on to oppose the Ukraine fund. At one point, Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) is subtle suggested She was parroting Russian propaganda.

The reality is that the United States is giving relatively few pennies (relative to total spending, that is) to contain and undercut Russia’s aggression. To suggest that it is doing so at the expense of other priorities such as the border is distasteful.

But, again, Green’s frustration isn’t really about how much is being spent.


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