When Russia went to war in February, Sens. Josh Hawley and Roger Marshall exhorted America — and the White House — to come to Ukraine’s aid.
“Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine and invasion of its territory must be met with strong American resolve,” declared Hawley, the Missouri Republican.
“I think the Ukrainians can win this war,” Marshall, a Kansas Republican, said in March. He added for emphasis: “Get them the damn weapons.”
Last week, Hawley and Marshall voted against a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. It’s been only a few months since the two made their original statements, but it appears they believe that America has met the limits of its resolve — and that Ukrainians, still locked in a brutal war with Russia, have enough “damn weapons.”
They had reasons for changing their minds, of course. Marshall protested that the battles in Europe are turning “into a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia,” while Hawley suggested that America is better off focusing its attention and resources on domestic concerns such as illegal immigration. “It’s about prioritizing American security and American interests,” the Missourian said.
Which sounds great, at least at first glance. The United States has repeatedly tripped over itself during the 21st century, with doomed military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both wars started off popular at home but ultimately resulted in decades of blood, shame and other lasting fallout. As a result, a sort of neo-isolationism has recently taken root among a small-but-growing cadre of Republicans who take Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson as inspirations. But if Hawley and Marshall want to be voices of restraint in American foreign policy, that probably wouldn’t be a bad thing.
There are reasons to be skeptical.
While Hawley isn’t interested in spending more money to help Ukraine defend itself — the better to focus on “American security and American interests,” remember — he always doesn’t apply that philosophy consistently. Late last year, he sponsored a bill to appropriate $3 billion in defense funding to give Taiwan the equipment and training “to deter or, if necessary, defeat an invasion by the People’s Republic of China.” Indeed, on Tuesday he called on President Joe Biden to position U.S. forces more aggressively in the Pacific. “If he wants to send a message to China, the thing to do is to get our forces in a position in the Asia Pacific, where we can stop an invasion of Taiwan,” he said. “That’s how you deter China.” In Europe, Hawley is a dove. In Asia, he’s a hawk.
And then there’s Iran. After then-President Donald Trump ordered the assassination of an Iranian general in Iraq in 2020, Hawley voted against the Iran War Powers Resolution, a measure intended to limit Trump’s ability to order any more attacks without congressional approval. Instead, Hawley tweeted of the Iranian general: “Glad he’s dead.” Similarly, Marshall last year backed a bill designed to make it more difficult for Biden to renew the Obama-era agreement that temporarily halted Iran’s progress toward building a nuclear weapon. In both cases, Hawley and Marshall worked to make an American war with Iran more likely.
What emerges from the duo, then, is not a clear vision of a powerful-but-cautious America that is a friend to freedom but is choosier in the way it throws its weight around on the world stage. Instead, it appears they’re onto something messier and more politically opportunistic: a way to oppose Biden while currying favor with Trump’s voters and Carlson’s viewers.
John Quincy Adams famously said that America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” That was a sound aspiration, but it doesn’t appear to be the goal of either Hawley or Marshall. They’re on the lookout for monsters, but in Asia instead of Europe — and would leave Ukrainians to their own devices defending against Russia’s invasion. That’s different. It’s not necessarily better.