Ukraine Fatigue Builds on the Horizon | Opinion

President Joe Biden's train had scarcely rolled into Ukraine before his American media fan base began to wrap his visit in lofty praise befitting former President Richard Nixon's visit to China, or the triumphant ride of Jesus into Jerusalem. Not only was there glowing regard for the fact that he was there; TV talking heads soon gasped with amazement at the logistics required to pull it off, as if no American president had ever been spirited into a war zone in secrecy before.

Past examples, of course, involved commanders-in-chief showing support for American troops. The Biden visit had a far more complicated goal: drumming up support for a proxy war with Russia without any demarcated limits on the amount or duration of America's national sacrifice.

At a fundamental level, there is an obvious desire in our nation and around the globe to see the world's tyrants thwarted. America has played a key role throughout history in several such retributions, so as Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine a year ago, an argument could be made for some level of U.S. involvement in an obvious trouble spot with serious ramifications for the European continent and beyond.

The American public spoke with a nearly unanimous voice as the Biden administration evaluated its options. There was a temporary willingness to support Ukraine with money and military equipment, but after a generation of ill-defined war waged against Islamic jihadists, Americans were in no mood to see more of our sons and daughters sent into another bloody conflict—especially one involving a nuclear-armed adversary, and with debatable implications for the U.S. national interest.

The familiar observation about the Biden visit was that it "sent a message"—to Ukrainians, Russians, and the world—that our resolve was not running dry. But it also sent a message to American taxpayers, who should have instantly discerned that countless mountains of money will be going to Volodymyr Zelensky for a seemingly interminable period of time.

The breathless claim made by advocates for our indefinite involvement is that we should be engaged for "as long as it takes"—a term invoked by Biden, his team, and by everyone seeking to stem natural curiosities as to whether we will ever say enough is enough.

It would be cynical to embrace the belief that Biden and his supporters are fused to an endless Ukraine operation in a desperate attempt to secure a win on the world stage, in order to balance a foreign policy legacy replete with failures. But witnesses to our disastrous exit from Afghanistan, as well as our passive-aggressive reactions to various recent aerial objects, can be forgiven for wondering if these people actually know what they're doing.

Plenty of Republicans can be found launching barbs at Biden's questionable global competence. But in the example of Ukraine, there is no small number of affirming GOP voices—nostalgic for the old days when the default was to frame America as a force for good in a dangerous world, and to expect broad applause for getting involved.

That is no longer a commanding instinct in the modern Republican Party. Perhaps it belongs on the long list of changes attributable to former President Donald Trump; maybe it's a weariness brought on by two decades of the War on Terror. But as an eager 2024 GOP field gathers to forestall Trump's return to the White House, candidates can expect scrutiny as to whether they will buy into Biden's Ukraine policy, or oppose it.

In this handout photo issued by the
In this handout photo issued by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Ukrainian presidential palace on February 20, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via Getty Images

One announced Republican presidential candidate, former South Carolina Governor and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, is already echoing the Biden line that supporting Ukraine "is about freedom." Anticipation grows over the likely presidential candidacy of another foreign policy veteran and Trump administration alumnus, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who may also try to sell America on the wisdom of more patience, more tanks, more jets, and, of course, more money.

That stance may not play well if this becomes another year of exasperating stalemate in the Donbas. The "news" from the region, if that term even applies any more, is a frustrating pendulum swing. One week we hear of a bloodied, dispirited Russian fighting force getting pummeled by scrappy Ukrainians making good use of our largesse. Days later, that supposedly weakened fighting force is cutting fresh murderous paths through Ukrainian cities and countryside. There is every reason to believe this standoff will last into next year's presidential primaries.

Biden may or may not be running, but it is hard to imagine any would-be Democratic rival opposing the one war in our lifetimes that liberals have found a way to love. Meanwhile, Republicans giving voice to Ukraine fatigue can expect a scolding from the establishment penthouses of their own party. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is already getting testy with GOP critics of blank checks and untold depletions of American weaponry.

But McConnell and other Republicans still selling America as the first responder to a variety of global hot spots may be greeted with louder pushback as the months pass, especially as China's sinister boldness reminds voters that this might not be the smartest time to devote vast armaments to an Eastern European border squabble.

Biden and cheerleaders in both parties want Americans to view our involvement in Ukraine as the moral equivalent of taking on Hitler in World War II—a comparison that insults history. Putin is an authoritarian thug, and it would be wonderful if our massive aid commitment would drive him from Ukraine in the next few months. But there is little reason to expect that, and every reason to expect a steeper uphill climb for any politicians continuing their sales pitch for staying this uncertain and possibly ruinous course.

Appetites may grow for a settlement that would hand some eastern Ukrainian territory over to Russia in return for Putin calling his forces home. That may not be enough for him; and, crucially, it may be similarly unacceptable to Zelensky, who dreams of victory without losing a square foot of land.

But if we are still mired in a status quo that is repellent to a growing number of voters, America might be wiser to push for that settlement than to cling to dwindling hopes of all-out Ukrainian victory at an increasingly unacceptable cost.

Mark Davis is a syndicated talk show host for the Salem Media Group on 660AM The Answer in Dallas-Ft. Worth, and a columnist for the Dallas Morning News and Townhall.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.