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The problem(s) with Ron DeSantis’ flawed foreign policy vision

As a governor, Ron DeSantis generally doesn’t talk much about foreign policy, but the Republican gave it a try this week. It didn’t go especially well.


An unfortunate group of Republicans were a little too quick to complain yesterday about President Joe Biden’s surprise visit to Kyiv. While many U.S. allies saw a triumphant moment for American leadership, some GOP voices saw a partisan opportunity to take cheap and unnecessary shots at their own country’s president.

Take Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example.

As a governor, the Florida Republican generally doesn’t have to focus much of his attention on foreign policy and international affairs. For the most part, that’s the purview of federal policymakers, not state chief executives.

But as Fox News reported, as DeSantis moves closer to a presidential campaign, the public is starting to get a better sense of how the far-right governor sees the world.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) called out President Biden for his “blank-check policy” on Ukraine after the president traveled to Kyiv for an unannounced visit shortly before the one-year mark of Putin’s assault. DeSantis joined “Fox & Friends” Monday to discuss Biden’s first visit to the war zone since the conflict started a year ago, and why the newly allocated half-billion dollars in Ukrainian aid is unacceptable without clearly defined goals.

Echoing his party’s reactionary wing, DeSantis condemned the status quo as an “open-ended blank check,” which the governor said is “not acceptable.”

In the same interview, the Florida Republican suggested his own country deserves part of the blame for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — DeSantis apparently thinks the withdrawal of U.S troops from Afghanistan laid the groundwork for Putin’s war, which is a familiar claim that has never made any sense — before dismissing Russia’s potency as “a third-rate military power” that isn’t “on the same level as a China.”

Of course, what DeSantis neglected to mention is that Russia’s military ineptitude has been exposed by Ukrainian forces that have benefited greatly from U.S. support — the same support he apparently has a problem with, as his “blank check” rhetoric suggested.

The governor went on to say, “I don’t think it’s in our interests to be getting into a proxy war with China, getting involved over things like the borderlands or over Crimea.”

Dan Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, described DeSantis’ claims as “incoherent,” adding, “You cannot simultaneously believe that Russia invaded Ukraine because of Afghanistan and then turn around and urge the U.S. [to] withdraw support from Ukraine to stand tough on China. If you really believe that the conflict in Ukraine is a proxy war with China (it isn’t), then exactly what signal does DeSantis thinks the United States would send if it withdrew support from Kyiv?!”

But I was just as struck by the Floridian’s motivations as I was his unfortunate rhetoric. DeSantis seems to think the best way to advance his ambitions is to criticize existing U.S. support for our Ukrainian allies. To hear the governor tell it, Biden is wrong in large part because of the Democrat’s steadfast commitment to support a democracy under attack by an authoritarian adversary.

That says a lot about DeSantis’ assumptions about what GOP voters want to hear, but it also sends a striking signal abroad.

New York magazine’s Jon Chait concluded, “Vladimir Putin has built his strategy on the assumption that he can keep throwing conscripts into the trenches of eastern Ukraine longer than the United States is willing to keep sending money and arms to Kyiv. Putin’s main hope has rested on Donald Trump returning to office in 2025. Now he has a second option should Trump falter in the primary. The odds that Putin will end the war just got longer.”