The Corner

U.S.

The National-Security Angle on Ukraine

The impeachment managers have been harping on the damage that President Trump’s hold-up of aid to Ukraine allegedly did to our foreign policy. The argument, at least as they have often made it, is not compelling.

First, as Trump’s defenders have pointed out, it is implausible that great harm was done by a temporary freeze. Second, and relatedly, the argument that it hurt depends on foreign-policy judgments on which reasonable people can disagree; it makes impeachment seem to turn on a mere policy disagreement in a way it pretty clearly shouldn’t. Third, the argument opens the door for Republicans to argue that Trump’s policy toward Ukraine has been better than his predecessor’s was — and I think that the Republicans are right about that. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a coherent argument that the delay was bad for U.S. interests because it hobbled Ukraine’s ability to fight Russia and that Obama’s policy was better; the argument on point one assumes that military assistance to Ukraine serves American interests, and it’s just the case that under Trump the U.S. government has provided more of it.

On the other hand, this last fact is not a get-out-of-impeachment-free card for the president. Under President Obama, the U.S. government hadn’t set a policy of providing military assistance to Ukraine. Under President Trump, it did — a policy mandated by Congress and officially approved by the president. Refusing to provide aid (as under Obama) harms U.S. credibility less than first mandating it in public and then refusing to provide it. And that the U.S. has adopted the policy as in our country’s interest is part of the impropriety of subverting the policy for the president’s personal interests — as the evidence strongly suggests Trump did.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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