When Donald Trump declared that Russia could do “whatever the hell it wants” to NATO countries, he was espousing his own lifelong credo. Trump has done whatever he pleases for most of his life. It was generous of him to extend the same carte blanche to the Kremlin, which is presumably pleased with his offer but has yet to comment on it publicly.
Once upon a time, conservatives used to raise an eyebrow over the notion over doing whatever the hell you want. They were in a more censorious mode, arguing that this amounted to moral relativism. Now it seems that anything goes.
The old certitudes are gone. Senator Lindsey Graham, the former wingman of John McCain in all things hawkish, is now declining to visit the Munich Security Conference, where Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver a rousing defense of the western alliance, NATO and liberty. If she were historically minded, Harris might note that a hundred years ago Hitler wrote Mein Kampf in Landsberg prison after he was imprisoned for leading the Beer Hall putsch. Even as Russian president Vladimir Putin accuses Ukraine of being a new Nazi state, he seems to be taking a leaf from Hitler in conducting his own genocidal war of aggression, including snatching small children off to Russia.
Right now, however, Graham is apparently intent on blowing off Munich to visit the southern border instead, where he can fulminate about the deficiencies of the Biden administration. He might even recall that in 2022 Biden, in one of his more malicious moments, saddled Harris with the job of bringing the immigration crisis under control. How has the border czar done?
Harris has a golden opportunity to make a comeback, however, in Munich where she can recount the dangers of appeasement in 1938 when the western democracies capitulated to Hitler. A repetition over Ukraine would he jeopardize western security once again. Harris will surely allude to the dangers represented by Trump, who can easily undermine NATO by simply announcing as president that he has no intention of coming to the aid of any country that Russia decides it would be profitable to attack. Trump’s current comments about NATO can be safely seen as an earnest of his intentions as commander-in-chief.
With Trump bellowing from the West and Putin conniving from the East, Timothy Garton Ash suggests in a Guardian essay that Europe should prepare to defend itself by establishing a common defense community, a project that was mooted in the 1950s but collapsed from sheer inanition. “Don’t be scared,” urges Garton Ash, “be prepared.” This would be a case of Trump achieving the impossible — rousing the Europeans, particularly the Germans, to defend themselves rather than rely on Washington.
For now, however, the old guard in the GOP is defying the MAGA forces led by Trump. Ukraine aid seems likely to be approved by the Senate and its passage would confront House Speaker Mike Johnson with a conundrum that he had hoped to avoid. Senator J.D. Vance is already huffing and puffing in the American Conservative that the Senate plan represents nothing less than a “Republican plot against Trump.” If only.