America’s fleeting chance to resume leadership

The United States can’t be the “indispensable nation” if it doesn’t lead in Ukraine.

Senators, both Republicans and Democrats, made an important start yesterday when they voted 67 to 32 to advance legislation that would free up $95 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. It was, to be sure, just a preliminary, procedural vote. The Senate still needs to pass the bill, and even then it faces long odds in the House of Representatives. But the Senate vote was an overdue step to stop the disastrous downhill slide in American power and influence in the world. The United States faces a choice: to resume its role as what Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called the “indispensable nation,” or to sit by and watch the world become more dangerous for us and our allies.

Opinions vary on when American global leadership began to wane. Some will point to the Vietnam era; others to the post-9/11 wars; still others to the Obama administration’s effort to “lead from behind.” Then there was Donald Trump’s “America first” approach, which actually meant “America alone.”

Through 2022 and into 2023, the United States took the lead, inspiring and encouraging the world to support Ukraine as it fought off Vladimir Putin’s brutal, unprovoked invasion. Washington got the ball rolling with military aid and intelligence sharing, and soon our allies in Europe and elsewhere were following suit.

But having mustered its friends and allies to a noble cause, the United States began to flag. Military aid slowed. Polls showed waning voter interest. A growing number of Republicans denounced American support for Kyiv. Several proposed packages of aid stalled or died on Capitol Hill, forcing Ukrainian troops to ration ammunition. The world took notice: Washington was committed to providing just enough aid to stop Russia from winning, but not enough to enable Ukraine to win.

By midsummer 2023, our European allies began to outstrip us, providing more aid than we had committed to support the Ukrainian war effort.

Can we make America great again? Can we lead the world, advancing order and security and democratic values? That’s what will be at issue in the Senate and House in the coming days. The Senate has taken a first step in the right direction, but it’s only the beginning of the resolve that’s needed.

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