There certainly should be a teenage exception. And, I would extend it to say 30 years old. In short, humans should be forgiven if in their 40s or beyond they contradict their earlier words or actions. But….
As a Congressman, Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis, urged then President Barack Obama to send “offensive and defensive” weapons to Ukraine. He stated in a radio exchange with Bill Bennett, “I think when someone like Putin sees Obama being indecisive, I think that whets his appetite to create more trouble in the area. And I think if we were to arm the Ukraine, I think that would send a strong signal to him that he shouldn’t be going any further.”
Now, before I go any further, I will admit to agreeing with the earlier version of DeSantis’s “thinking”. But, this is a column about thinking not about foreign policy.
The latest version of DeSantis’s thinking on the Russia-Ukraine war is, “while the United States has many vital national interests…becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them”. Donald Trump was quick to jump saying, “Whatever I want he wants”. Perhaps Trump is right but my greater concern is that DeSantis engaged in casual recklessness.
DeSantis laid out his views in response to a Tucker Carlson questionnaire. First tier candidates, if they are thinking, should avoid self-defeat. DeSantis had spoken the week before at a prestigious event at the Ronald Reagan Library. Why not assess the war and our support as the Gipper (Ronald Reagan) peers down?
My views about the geopolitical consequences of withdrawing our support, treating the war as a territorial dispute, are just that, my views, of no particular consequence. But DeSantis, a leading figure in the Republican Party, and a potential successor to Joe Biden? He showed an egregious lack of humility and regard for America’s position abroad.
If DeSantis had just finished a tour of Ukraine and its immediate neighbors and then dropped by NATO headquarters for an insider briefing, he would arguably deserve to be taken seriously. His statement, given that we are a two-Party democracy, nudged the United States toward the indecisive—a stance he worried about when Barack Obama was President.
The Governor has been effective on a number of fronts. He has a command and control approach that resulted in a rapid completion of a temporary causeway from Ft. Myers to Sanibel after Hurricane Ian. And as most know who have followed his time in office, he is a traditionalist when it comes to cultural issues; not hesitating for example to take on what he considered a “Woke Disney”. But now he has done everything but announce he is running for President.
Consequential Presidential candidates must ask and answer a cascade of questions before going public on major foreign policy challenges. Foreign policy is America’s policy—it should certainly be debated at home. But when we face the Atlantic or Pacific, as much as possible we should project power, not division.
And, more specifically, how will a leading politician’s questionnaire blurb be used by Vladimir Putin? Now an accused “war criminal”, as the International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for his arrest. As propaganda, for sure. And, perhaps as an excuse not to negotiate until the American election.
DeSantis also indicates he thinks China is our priority. It is certainly one of them. So how will Xi Jinping interpret the DeSantis “thinking?” Irresoluteness tends to travel. It is hard to imagine that Xi will perceive the DeSantis flip-flop as a signal to Taiwan that America has your back.
My advice to DeSantis; pay attention to your senior US Senator, Marco Rubio, who alluded to his lack of preparation. To paraphrase Rubio, Tallahassee (Florida’s capitol) is not where foreign policy is made.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.