Ron DeSantis Gives Good but Uneven Foreign Policy Speech – Russian autocrat President Vladimir Putin has initiated an illegal invasion of Ukraine to subordinate his smaller, pro-Western neighbor to what Putin believes to be his rightful sphere of influence. Believing that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was aggressively moving into regions of Europe that most Russian elite believed NATO would not move into, Putin spent years cautioning NATO not to move any deeper into the former Soviet bloc states. Ukraine was Moscow’s red line.
Whether real or imagined by Putin and his siloviki, they sent Russia into a devastating war of aggression predicated on mostly false pretenses (sound familiar?)
In the conduct of their war of aggression, Vladimir Putin’s forces have executed gruesome war crimes against their Ukrainian enemies. Mass rapes. Beheadings. Utter dehumanization of all things Ukrainian. Putin, if not directly responsible for these crimes, is obviously indirectly responsible for having initiated the conflict to begin with.
Vlad Putin is a War Criminal—We Get It…
Recently, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for Vladimir Putin’s arrest on the charges of human rights violations. Neither Russia nor the United States are part of the ICC, by the way. Nevertheless, the ICC has issued this warrant.
Of course, the question of execution of the warrant was clearly never once asked. If it had been, perhaps someone could have informed the ICC that the last thing the Western alliance should be doing is issuing toothless warrants to remind the world of that which Vladimir Putin and his allies in China and Iran keep saying, that America and its allies are weak, decadent, and feckless.
Those in support of this move by the ICC prattle on about the importance of the symbolism. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (in the words of George Carlin): I leave symbols to the symbol minded. Especially when it sends the wrong message to Putin and his autocratic allies, who are definitely feeling their oats on the world stage in the face of perceived, persistent American weakness. We all know that Putin is a bastard.
So what? Many world leaders are. Will we go after every bloody minded world leader militarily—even those, as with Russia, that have large nuclear weapons stockpiles?
Maybe it’s because I came up during the Iraq War (and its aftermath), but for all this talk about the ICC issuing this warrant on Putin, people seem to forget that the ICC has been investigating the George W. Bush Administration for supposed war crimes in Afghanistan since 2007. There have been calls since 2006 for the ICC to investigate the Bush Administration for its alleged lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that got the United States to invade Iraq in 2003. Although, since Iraq has never recognized the ICC, only the Afghanistan investigation is considered serious, because Afghanistan does recognize the ICC.
As Brett Schaefer, a senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation reports, the investigations the ICC has undertaken into the Bush Administration for its alleged abuses represents “an early step in the [charging] process,” but in “neither [the ICC’s investigations into George W. Bush’s Iraq or Afghanistan’s war policies] does action seem imminent.”
It won’t really matter, though, because just like Russia, the United States doesn’t recognize the ICC. For good measure, in 2020, it was reported that former President Donald Trump issued an executive order “criminalizing” anyone who works for the ICC. Clearly, reciprocity is a concept that few in America’s foreign policy leadership fully understands. If we can do it, the Russians can too.
So, no, it really doesn’t matter whether Putin is a war criminal or not. What matters is whether America and its allies have the juice to do anything about it or not. We don’t. Waste of time. DeSantis should avoid irresponsible talk like this.
Speaking of Ron DeSantis…
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is likely going to announce his candidacy for the Republican Party’s presidential contest in a few months (likely sometime in May or June, after the Florida Legislature ends its current session). It matters increasingly more what he says about most major policy issues—especially foreign policy, given what’s going on in the world, largely as a result of the shambolic Biden foreign policy.
No, Russia is Not Just a “Gas Station with Nukes”
Ron DeSantis made remarks in which rightly called Vladimir Putin a “war criminal.” He followed that on with comments about Russia being little more than “a gas station with a bunch of nuclear weapons.” In that, he echoed the comments of the now-deceased Senator John McCain (R-AZ). McCain’s remarks were inaccurate when the Arizona Republican made them a decade ago.
They are wrong today.
Yes, Russia has much natural gas and oil that it deftly exploits to its advantage (this is how Moscow has managed to avoid the nastiest bits of the West’s otherwise onerous economic sanctions). Moscow has been able to support its economy because, for the last decade, Putin’s regime has invested heavily in building up Russia’s agricultural sector and several other commodities that few other nations possess within their borders.
Republicans need to stop saying these silly things about Russia. It is a strategic threat because it is so much more than just a “gas station with nukes.”
Where DeSantis aced his foreign policy statement was in his proposed policy solution and the way in which he placed the Russian threat in the wider context of US grand strategy.
Elaborating on his remarks, DeSantis advocated for the robust development of America’s bountiful natural resources—specifically its fossil fuels—to counteract Russia’s strategic advantages in the global energy markets.
The previous Republican administration deftly developed these resources which granted immense leverage for the United States on the world stage (and helped to keep the global energy prices low). When Biden supplanted Donald Trump, he reversed most of these policies. DeSantis, if elected in 2024, will return the US to energy dominance (thank God!)
Despite False Start, DeSantis Proves He Gets Strategy
Lastly, DeSantis’ contextualization of Russia as a strategic threat, but not America’s principle adversary, is apt. Russia has been a perennial thorn in America’s side. Although, this has not occurred only because of Russian actions following the Cold War.
It takes two great powers to tango, after all.
Since 1991, the Americans and their allies have engaged in a series of moves that were mostly unnecessary in the wake of the Cold War that indicated to Moscow that the Cold War was not, in fact, over but was merely on pause. Again, this does not excuse Russia’s grotesque behavior at all. But the West helped to create this situation with idiotic and short-sighted policies.
Ron DeSantis clearly favors hard American power more than Donald Trump does. Yet, to say that DeSantis is a warmonger is inaccurate. A recent New York Times piece put it right: DeSantis favors hard power but with a high bar.
Meaning that those worried that DeSantis would have committed the United States to this ridiculous Ukraine War the way that Biden has can rest assured. He would not have (in fact, under either Trump or DeSantis, it is likely the conflict would not have occurred at all). What’s more, it is unlikely that a President Ron DeSantis would commit us to a similar conflict.
Keeping Voters Happy
DeSantis’ foreign policy comments come in the context of the Florida governor trying to build a wide coalition on the Right. A coalition that will not only allow for him to overcome Trump’s inherent advantages as being an incumbent with a deep sense of grievance coupled with a committed base of support, but one that would further attract independents.
While many Americans today are not as sanguine about the country’s continued (and expanding) commitment to Ukraine, many Americans are sympathetic to the Ukrainian cause and do not want to see us totally abandon them to the vicious Russians. Neither do I. What most Americans want (myself included) is a recalibration of American interests.
DeSantis is trying to appeal to those groups who want us to walk that line. It is not only the smart move strategically, but it is also the moral move.
Let’s give grace to DeSantis as he has a herculean task ahead of him: wrest control of the party from a man that is deeply loved and completely unpredictable while trying to appeal to the voters who will show up to the polls in the General Election in 2024—most of whom are decidedly not fans of former President Trump.
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Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who serves as a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive.com. Weichert is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower(Republic Book Publishers), The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy (March 28), and Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life (May 16). Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.