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Speaker Johnson Has An Excellent Opportunity To Course-Correct On Ukraine

He must listen to the American people, not the Beltway crowd or the Military Industrial Complex.

  • Speaker Mike Johnson appeared on Sean Hannity's Fox News program to introduce himself to American voters
  • He emphasized core conservative principles such as individual freedom and limited government
  • While Johnson's foreign policy positions are less clear, he expressed concerns about reckless wars but appeared less knowledgeable about the Ukraine situation
  • His stance on funding Ukraine differs from the MAGA base, as he seemed open to it while emphasizing the need for accountability

Speaker Mike Johnson has had a busy two days since gaveling the House to order on Wednesday. He visited President Biden at the White House for a 15-minute meet-and-greet session and spent nearly two hours speaking with senior administration officials. Johnson also met Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to discuss GOP strategies in the divided Congress. He had the customary top-secret briefings reserved for senior Congressional leaders. 

And Johnson made time to appear on Sean Hannity's Fox News program to introduce himself for a full hour to the American voter. It was a superb move. Most Americans know little about Johnson as he has avoided the spotlight for the seven years he has served in Congress representing Louisiana, staying in the shadows of his more powerful colleague, Steve Scalise, the House Majority Whip. 

Speaker Mike Johnson sat down with Sean Hannity for his first one-on-one interview since becoming the Speaker of the House. Screenshot.

Johnson recited what he said were the core principles of conservatism - individual freedom, limited government, the rule of law, peace through strength, fiscal responsibility, free markets, and human dignity. He will have strong support from the GOP base if he can run the House as such a principled conservative. It is why we said two days ago he has the unique ability to help change the direction of the 2024 race for the presidency and Congress. 

On abortion, he criticized Roe as one of the worst decisions of the Supreme Court and praised the Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe and returned the power to regulate to the states on the strength of the Tenth Amendment. This position is identical to the one we hold and wrote about in August 2022

On gay marriage, his position is very reasonable. A 25-year expert Constitutional lawyer, he represented Christian groups in the mid-2000s, arguing to defend the traditional definition of marriage as a union between man and woman. It was, after all, the official position of the United States government then because of the federal Defense of Marriage Law. It was only in 2015 that a 5-4 Supreme Court verdict invalidated this definition of marriage, paving the way for gay marriage and the recognition of LGBTQ couples. Johnson says that he believes in and respects the rule of the law - so his personal position doesn't matter.  

On foreign policy, his positions are not as well thought out. We want to give him the benefit of time but are concerned that he will get engulfed in the Beltway vortex of reckless wars and limited diplomacy. 

On Ukraine, he seemed remarkably ill-informed. He repeated the moderate GOP positions of Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, and Chris Christie by asserting that "President Putin should not be allowed to prevail in Ukraine because I don't believe it would stop there - and it would probably encourage and empower China to perhaps make a move on Taiwan."

Both of these assertions are false and are not backed by any evidence or a fundamental understanding of history. For nearly two decades, going back to Munich in 2008, President Putin has demanded that Ukraine, which has a significant Russian-speaking population, remain geopolitically neutral, arguing that a Western-allied Ukraine  in the NATO fold would threaten Russia's very existence. This position is identical to President JFK's in the 1960s when he threatened then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev with nuclear armageddon if the Soviets did not withdraw military power from Cuba. No Great Power wants another Great Power lurking just over their border.  

While Putin was wrong to invade Ukraine, it is not clear that Putin would be extending his aggression to other countries. There's also the question of ability. Russia has been having severe trouble holding on to Ukrainian territory and has had to beg Iran and North Korea for weapons to sustain the conflict. So, how could Putin extend it to other nations when Russia struggles to cope with existing Western sanctions?   

The idea that China would be emboldened to act in the Taiwanese Straits, if Russia were to prevail, is also not based on facts. Although China has built up an ominous military capability in the South China Sea for years, the situation has remained tense but manageable. The culprit was former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who needlessly saber-rattled the Chinese by landing in Taipei with great fanfare and addressing the Taiwanese parliament. Even the Biden administration frowned on such a high-profile visit, mindful that it violates the spirit of America's One China policy. Our reading is that China will act aggressively in Taiwan if America is seen to act aggressively there. The outcome of the war in Ukraine is irrelevant to China because Beijing, too, sees Taiwan's pro-independence movement as an existential threat to China's future. 

Johnson's position on funding Ukraine would shock the MAGA base. Unlike Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, who vehemently opposed all funding to Ukraine, Johnson seemed open to the idea.

We are not going to abandon them (Ukraine), but we have a stewardship responsibility over the precious treasure of the American people.

Of course, demanding accountability for how the funds are spent in corrupt Ukraine is a no-brainer. We wrote in July 2022 that corruption in Ukraine warrants stricter oversight.

The issue now is that the war has created havoc worldwide and must stop. Over 500,000 people have died, over 12 million Ukrainians have been displaced, large parts of Europe have been impoverished, the Russia-China-Iran-North Korea axis has strengthened, and America's standing in the Global South has significantly fallen, even more now given the war in the Middle East. 

Speaker Johnson said that a critical conservative principle is "human dignity." It is not dignified for America to let a much-weaker Ukraine sacrifice its lives and limbs and become fodder to the Russian onslaught simply so that America can modernize its weapons inventories and weaken Russia's military might, as McConnell said. Providing more weapons to Ukraine now (not to mention funds to pay Ukrainian government salaries and pensions) will only extend the carnage and killing.

Frankly, President Biden's 'As Long As It Takes' policy for the war lacks vision. As demonstrated by a recent I&I/TIPP Poll, the majority of Americans are dissatisfied with Biden's efforts to find a settlement. Furthermore, burdened with a $34 trillion debt on the heels of trillions of spending in the Iraq war, Americans are reluctant to make a long-term commitment to Ukraine.

It is still early days, but Speaker Johnson has an excellent opportunity to course-correct on Ukraine. He should listen to the American people, not the Beltway crowd or the Military Industrial Complex. It was why he was promoted to the top House job in the first place, something he should not forget. 

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