Angus King: Once in a while, someone in the U.S. Senate comes up with a statement that restores one’s faith in political integrity, elder statesmanship, and leadership. Senator Angus King (Independent, of the state of Maine) spoke on the Senate floor recently about what U.S. refusal to aid Ukraine would mean. It is worth repeating here.
“King harked back to the failure of European allies to stop Hitler when it would have been relatively easy. “Whenever people write to my office” asking why we are supporting Ukraine, he said, “I answer, Google Sudetenland, 1938. We could have stopped a murderous dictator who was bent on geographic expansion…at a relatively low cost. The result of not doing so was 55 million deaths.”
“The upcoming vote on whether to support the people of Ukraine as they fight for our values,” King said, “will echo throughout the history of this country and the history of the world for generations…. If we back away, walk away, pull out and leave the Ukrainians without the resources to defend themselves, it will compromise the interests of this country for 50 years. It will be viewed as one of the greatest geopolitical mistakes of the 21st century.”
“Abandoning Ukraine would embolden Russian president Vladimir Putin”, King said. “Putin told us in 2005 that he felt that the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century was the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He has…pursued the remedy to that catastrophe in his eyes ever since…. In 2008 he gobbled up part of what had been an independent country of Georgia. In 2014…Crimea and eastern Ukraine. In 2022, he tried for the rest of Ukraine.”
“People say Putin will stop with Ukraine”, King said, “but the Finns don’t think so. The Swedes don’t think so. The Baltic countries don’t think so, and the Finns and the Swedes know Russia.”
“Maya Angelou once said if someone tells you who they are, you should believe them,” King said. “Putin has told us who he is. He’s an autocrat. He’s an authoritarian. And he wants to rebuild the Soviet Union. And I believe he wouldn’t stop there…. We have to take him at his word…. He despises the west. He thinks NATO is an aggressive alliance, somehow designed to invade or otherwise threaten Russia. NATO doesn’t want to invade Russia. NATO wants to keep the lines where they are.” King noted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was “the first crossing of a border of this nature since World War II.”
“What we’re looking at here,” King said, “is…the struggle between the idea of democracy and the rule of law and authoritarianism and totalitarianism…. Ukraine is the opening wedge in that…conflict. Turning away from Ukraine would embolden Putin”, King said, “but not only Putin. If we cut and run in Ukraine, that will change Xi Jinping’s calculus about Taiwan. He’s going to say well, the Americans aren’t going to stick. We don’t have to worry too much about them helping the Taiwanese defend themselves.”
King, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, identified the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy and warned what is at stake if the U.S. abandons Ukraine. “Our asymmetric advantage in the world right now is allies,” King said. “China has customers. We have allies…. But our allies are going to say well, wait a minute. You’re with us now but when the going gets tough and you have to maybe have a budget supplemental to stick with us, you’re going to walk away. It’s going to undermine the confidence of our allies, and in places like Japan and South Korea, they may say we can’t count on the Americans to defend us.”
“If we abandon Ukraine”, he said, “we will have destroyed our ability to negotiate and make deals in the future. Who the heck is going to deal with us if they know we can’t be trusted? What an…incredible…self-inflicted wound on this country.” King recalled that in the 1780s, France had stood with the fledgling U.S. even as the Revolutionary War dragged on and noted that “there’s a reasonable chance we wouldn’t be the United States of America today, if our ally had walked away…. The whole idea of an alliance is that you can count on somebody when the times are tough. We’re sending ammunition. They’re sending lives.”
Addressing right-wing talking points about aid to Ukraine, King said that U.S. aid to Ukraine is “one of the best and strongest and most closely accounted for provisions of aid ever” and that “the idea that nobody else is contributing and Europe isn’t doing its part is just bunk.” Europe has given far more to Ukraine than the U.S. as a percentage of the wealth each country produces”, he said”, and other countries have also taken in millions of refugees.
“Democracy matters,” King said. “Values matter. Freedom of expression, the rule of law matter, and that’s what’s at stake…. This is a historic struggle between authoritarianism, arbitrariness, surveillance, and the radical idea that people can govern themselves. That’s what this is all about. This is a battle for the soul of our democracy in the world…. It’s worth fighting for. And in this case, we don’t even have to do the fighting. We just have to supply the arms and ammunition.”
“I have a question for my colleagues,” King said. “When the history of this day is written, as it surely will be, do you really want to be recorded as being on the side of Vladimir Putin?… Or on the side of China, as they contemplate the invasion of Taiwan…History’s going to record this vote as one of the most important votes that any of us have ever made.”
For his part, King said, “I want to stand on the side of resisting authoritarianism, on the side of democracy, on the side of the values that the country has stood for and that people have been fighting for 250 years.”
As I said at the beginning, it is refreshing and reassuring that someone in the U.S. Senate is willing to stand up for the principles on which the Senate was founded, and to hell with partisan politics.