That is the context in which we must consider the contribution of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to Thursday’s rally in Iowa: her argument about funding for the war in Ukraine was political rhetoric, not considered analysis. The question, then, is what political goals he wants to advance.
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Greene’s mention of Ukraine comes from a riff on borders. Greene accused Democrats and the news media of ignoring alleged “crimes” involving undocumented immigrants, including that there are “drugs flooding our borders, with fentanyl poisoning every day.” One of the reasons you’re hearing about fentanyl so much this year is that overdose deaths have increased, as reported by the media. Another reason is that Republicans are using fear of fentanyl as a way to argue with Democrats on border policy — even though most fentanyl is smuggled through existing border checkpoints, often by US citizens.
Regardless, that was the setup for his comments about US spending to help Ukraine.
“Democracy has left our borders open,” he said in Iowa. “But the only border they guard is Ukraine, not the southern border of America. Under the Republicans, not another penny will go to Ukraine. Our country first.”
See the logical jump there? From “Democrats too concerned about the borders of Ukraine” to “we should not spend on Ukraine at all.” It is not clear how one follows from the other, but consistency in such matters is not how Greene built his political reputation.
Although not an official GOP position, Greene’s “not another cent” line was met with some applause. That’s not surprising, given that polls have shown increasing Republican skepticism about providing aid to Ukraine in its fight against Russian invaders. As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake noted Thursday, almost half Republicans now think that the United States is doing too much to support Ukraine.
But the United States did relatively little – especially when viewed in the historical context of its efforts to contain Russian aggression.
US defense spending has increased dramatically since the end of the Cold War, an era in which US opposition to Russian power was most pronounced. That was largely due to increased spending that followed the 9/11 attacks, including the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But that’s also because spending has increased broadly and because of inflation. Relative to the total government spending, defense spending (here it means outlays of the Ministry of Defense) has been quite flat.
As a percentage of total outlays, defense spending is much lower today than it was during the Cold War. That plunged in recent years, though that’s partly thanks to a surge in spending aimed at containing the coronavirus.
Why is this context important? Because the central point of Cold War-era spending was to combat Moscow’s expansionism (and, more broadly, communism). For a smaller share of the federal budget and with lower defense spending, the United States has been very effective in thwarting Russia’s expansionist designs in Ukraine.
According to an analysis from the Congressional Research Service updated late last month, the United States has committed just under $18 billion to the conflict since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Here’s how defense spending has stacked up since the early 1960s.
This is not all of the Defense Department’s spending. That includes funding from the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing program. It’s also not all approved spending. As you may remember from the last time the country’s attention was so focused on Ukraine – during Trump’s first impeachment in 2019 – the government has a two-step process for spending. There is appropriation, which means that Congress clears the money for spending, then spends itself. In total, about $28 billion has been made available in fiscal years 2022 and 2023 (fiscal years starting in early October) to help Ukraine.
If we compare those figures to the total expenditure of 2022, the expenditure in Ukraine is as follows.
Look, $28 billion is a lot of money to you or me, of course. (Well, I suppose.) This is not true of the US government. Usually, though, these numbers will be quoted out of context of all federal spending to make it appear that the United States is running profligate risks. But that’s a rhetorical point that’s largely aimed at spending rather than focusing on spending — as Greene does here.
Remember that Greene, like others on the right, has expressed sympathy for the Russian position since the outset of the conflict. In March, he said in a Facebook video that the United States should not help defend Ukraine. She framed this as humanitarian: Expanding the conflict simply means more death.
“It is not our responsibility to give [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky and the Ukrainian people are falsely hoping for an unwinnable war,” he said at the time – an assessment that was definitely under-aged. Then, too, he claimed that the government was cutting Ukraine instead of the border, and then he was wrong too.
The speech included various false claims and disparagements of Ukraine. Greene continues to consistently oppose the funding of Ukraine. At one point, Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) unsubtly should that he is parroting Russian propaganda.
The reality is that the United States is spending relatively few pennies (relative to total spending, that is) to contain and humiliate Russian aggression. To suggest that it does so at the expense of other priorities, such as borders, is incorrect.
But, again, Greene’s frustration isn’t really about how much has been released.