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Cheney attacks DeSantis over Ukraine comments

By Sarah May on
 March 16, 2023

In the wake of comments from Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis casting doubt on whether U.S. involvement in the war between Russia and Ukraine is in this country's “vital national interests,” former Congresswoman Liz Cheney blasted the potential GOP presidential candidate for a position she deemed “wrong” and not in keeping with the “lessons of Ronald Reagan,” as The Hill reports.

The controversy arose after DeSantis responded to a series of questioned posed by Fox News host Tucker Carlson to a group of current or prospective Republican 2024 presidential candidates, including one asking for their position on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

DeSantis weighs in on Ukraine

Articulating his stance concerning Ukraine in response to the Fox News inquiry, DeSantis declared, as CBS News noted, “While the U.S. has many vital national interests – securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness within our military, achieving energy security and independence, and checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party – becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them.”

Advocating for a peaceful resolution to the hostilities, DeSantis added that Washington “should not provide assistance that could require the deployment of American troops or enable Ukraine to engage in offensive operations beyond its borders.”

Emphasizing the already hefty financial cost of U.S. support of Ukraine, DeSantis asserted that Americans “are also entitled to know how the billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are being utilized in Ukraine.”

DeSantis previously decried what he characterized as a “blank check” policy toward Ukraine “with no clear strategic objective identified,” but his comments in response to the Fox News questionnaire marked his strongest and most detailed statement on the conflict to date.

“Weakness is provocative”

The arguments lodged by DeSantis sparked vehement disagreement from Cheney, who told the New York Times that the governor was simply “wrong” in his assessment of the conflict and that is position is, in fact, a dangerous one.

“This is not a territorial dispute. The Ukrainian people are fighting for their freedom,” said Cheney. “Surrendering to Putin and refusing to defend freedom makes America less safe.”

Cheney continued, “Weakness is provocative, and American officials who advocate this type of weakness are Putin's greatest weapon.”

“Abandoning Ukraine would make broader conflict, including with China and other American adversaries, more likely,” Cheney concluded.

Republicans sound off

Though they had their share of disagreements with Cheney while she was in the legislature, several prominent current lawmakers in Congress came forth with similar words of condemnation for DeSantis over his statement on Ukraine, as ABC News reports.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) expressed his frustration with DeSantis' position, saying, “I was kind of surprised. I mean, Governor DeSantis is a veteran. He's a smart guy. I think he's been a very good governor. And I just don't understand him saying that Ukraine isn't important to the United States.”

As CBS News noted, another top Republican who was exceedingly critical of the governor's opinion was Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who declared DeSantis' take to be “a misunderstanding of the situation. This is not a territorial conflict, it's a war of aggression. To say it doesn't matter is to say war crimes don't matter.”

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) added his voice to the chorus of detractors, saying, “Any one of the individuals who has an interest in working as the next president of the United States really needs to get a full briefing before they decide to make up their minds on this particular issue.”

Invitation extended

In response to the controversy surrounding DeSantis' statements on the conflict, Ukrainian officials have invited the governor to visit the nation to see the situation firsthand, as CBS News further noted.

Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ukraine, took to social media this week to say, “We are sure that as a former military officer deployed to a combat zone, Governor [Ron DeSantis] knows the difference between a 'dispute' and 'war.'”

“We invite him to visit Ukraine to get a deeper understanding of Russia's full-scale invasion and the threats it poses to U.S. interests,” Nikolenko added.

Though DeSantis received significant pushback – even from members of his own party – as a result of his opinions on Ukraine, a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll indicated that support among the American electorate for continued economic and equipment assistance to the beleaguered country is softening, and just how closely aligned the governor's view is with that of the voters as the 2024 election stakes heat up, only time will tell.