What JD Vance Gets Wrong on Ukraine

My first instinct upon hearing that Senator JD Vance (R-OH) had an op-ed in the New York Times opposing further aid to Ukraine was to ignore it. After all, Vance has made his hostility to Ukraine’s self-defense well known for a while now.

I have come to the realization that was a mistake. Vance’s column suffered no loss in attention from my refusal to engage; The Hill quickly spread the word. Moreover, his arguments had several flaws that need addressing.

Nick Grossman from Arc Digital does a decent job taking Vance’s arguments apart. In particular…

  • Vance insists Ukraine needs more in materiel than the U.S. can provide. Grossman notes, “Total U.S. military aid to Ukraine has been a fraction of one year’s U.S. military budget. If the U.S. should is a separate question. But America definitely can.”
  • Vance implies that President Biden has promised victory for Ukraine if the aid package passed by the Senate is enacted. Grossman notes that he has not, in fact, made that promise: “Biden never said one more aid package and Ukraine will win. Nor has any member of the Biden admin, any Ukrainian official, or credible outside military analyst, AFAIK. They’ve said without aid Ukraine could lose, but that’s not the same thing.”
  • Vance attempts to minimize American aid by noting Russia’s current 5-1 artillery advantage, but as Grossman notes, “Russia did not achieve a 5-to-1 artillery fire advantage while the U.S. was actively supplying Ukraine. Russia achieved that or better only now, months after U.S. stopped sending ammo. Artillery fire rates were about even earlier, and would be again, if U.S. provided aid Vance votes against.”

The rest involve straw-man arguments about the military-industrial complex and Ukrainian morale; Grossman addresses each in turn. Underlying them all, however, are two fundamentally wrong implications on Vance’s part.

First, Vance gives the impression that the United States is alone in supporting Ukraine’s self-defense. That simply isn’t true. In fact, as the Ukraine Support Tracker shows, America has provided less than half of all military aid to Ukraine. Even with the Senate package enacted into law, based on RFERL data, American aid would be under 60 percent of the total military aid Ukraine would get, or has received. Many of Vance’s arguments run aground when it becomes clear how much America’s allies are also supporting Ukraine.

Secondly, and more dangerously, Vance implies that Ukraine can choose between victory and surrender. In other words, he’s sure that Vladimir Putin is prepared to negotiate. Putin has provided no evidence for this. If anything, Putin has grown more bellicose since this all began two years ago. Reuters has noted he is even dropping the “special military operation” labeling and calling the war what it is.

The man himself made it clear that Vance is getting it backwards (via George Conway): “It would be ridiculous for us to start negotiating with Ukraine just because it’s running out of ammunition.”

In other words, the very thing Vance wants in the hope of bringing Putin to peace talks (starving Ukraine of weaponry) is encouraging the tyrant away from said talks.

Either Vance is too naive to understand international affairs or he is better at presenting effectively pro-Moscow positions than many of his fellow Republicans. Neither conclusion should endear him – or his party – to the American people.

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