The War of Boebert Aggression

Lauren Boebert
Despite loud opposition from MAGA Reps. like Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz, support for Ukraine is still very much the mainstream position for both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
January 4, 2023

The New Year’s holiday, a far bigger deal in the post-Soviet world than it is in the U.S., has given no respite to either Ukrainians or Russians. The Russian military rained missiles and Iranian drones down on Kyiv on New Year’s Day. On January 2, the Ukrainian military shot a couple HIMARS rockets into a Russian military barracks housing hundreds of recently drafted Russian soldiers who, apparently, were all using their cell phones, which allowed the Ukrainian forces to locate them. By the evening of the 3rd, a day that Russians spent mourning and promising revenge, the Russian Ministry of Defense upped its official casualty count from 63 to 89—though the Ukrainians put the number of Russian dead at 400. (Given the fog of war—and state propaganda—it is hard to verify either number.)

The war has settled into a grinding slog, what military analyst Michael Kofman, who has become a kind of prophet of this conflict, has called its “transitional phase.” There are no more spectacular breakthroughs of the kind we saw in Kharkiv, no more surrenders like the one we witnessed at Kherson in November. The war is now concentrated where it had been since 2014: the Donbas. The Ukrainian army seems to be on the verge of taking Kreminna, a small eastern city in Ukraine that’s been occupied by the Russians. Fifty miles to the south, Russian forces, led mainly by Evgeny Prigozhin’s mercenary Wagner Group, have been trying for months to take Bakhmut—though, according to the well-regarded Institute for the Study of War, they are on the verge of “culminating,” that is, exhausting themselves. (Prigozhin seemed to acknowledge as much in a recent on-camera visit to his troops in Bakhmut, where they complained of a lack of equipment and he exaggerated the fortifications of the city.) 

These are the current prizes in the war: small cities in the Donbas that are obliterated in the taking. Meanwhile, Russia continues pounding Kyiv, Kherson, Kharkiv, and other major Ukrainian cities, annihilating their civilian infrastructure and making it nearly impossible for the Ukrainian government to provide heat, electricity, and clean water to their citizens. As Kofman pointed out, this isn’t just about exhausting Ukrainians into submission. The Russians have a very clear military goal in mind, too: making the Ukrainian military choose whether it deploys its limited air defense artillery on protecting its civilians in the cities or its soldiers in the battlefields. Eventually, Moscow hopes that Ukraine’s air defenses are exhausted to the point that Russia will finally have dominance of the skies, a goal that has eluded them since February 24.

As readers of Tomorrow Will Be Worse will recall, this has been an artillery war for months now, and the burn rate—i.e., the rate at which the Ukrainian military is using up munitions to keep up with incoming fire from the Russian side—is putting a strain on what Ukraine’s Western partners can supply. Of course, it’s putting a strain on the Russian side, too. As several military analysts have noted, if Russia had enough weapons but not enough men to shoot them before Vladimir Putin’s partial military call-up in September, now Russia is running short of munitions, despite bragging that its Kalibr cruise missiles “will never run out.” Indeed, Russia now has plenty of men but not enough things for them to shoot. It’s all coalescing around a classic Russian strategy to stall a war it can’t win outright: throw bodies at the meat grinder until the meat grinder simply breaks.

The War Comes Home

Which brings us back to Washington, where another war is playing out—this one a civil war within the Republican House conference, or the War of Boebert Aggression. Back in the spring, we at TWBW talked about Moscow’s hope that Western capitals, Washington chief among them, would tire of bankrolling Kyiv’s defense. It is one of the reasons we’ve seen an acceleration of the feedback loop between Kremlin state TV and Fox News mainstays like Tucker Carlson, who seem to be reading from the same crib sheet about Ukrainian neo-Nazis and Putin’s greatness. As my partner Tina Nguyen has reported, this has dovetailed powerfully with MAGA isolationism to produce statements from Marjorie Taylor Greene and the now-doomed Kevin McCarthy that Ukraine will no longer get a “blank check” once they’re in charge of the 118th Congress. 

To wit, Matt Gaetz, one of the leaders of the anti-McCarthy resistance, has been tweeting that Ukraine seems to be one of the reasons for his opposition to “my Kevin.” (Gaetz, you’ll recall, was one of the House members who, along with Lauren Boebert, refused to applaud Volodymyr Zelensky when he delivered a stirring address to a joint session of Congress last month.) And, as our own Tara Palmeri has been telling me, anti-McCarthy MAGA folks are passing around a photo of the party leader wearing a Ukraine flag pin with a matching pocket square. The message seems to be that this man who believes in nothing supported a “blank check to Ukraine” before he was against it, back when it was fashionable. Whoever replaces him will be a firmer believer in not funding another “forever war,” especially not one supported by the Democrat in the White House. 

So is Ukraine aid in danger? Nah. 

Pretty much no one I spoke to in Washington is worried. Despite the very loud opposition from the MAGA wing of the Republican Party in Congress, support for Ukraine is still very much the mainstream position for both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. The number might fluctuate, the way the aid is structured might change, but it won’t go away. “Because I think there’s a bipartisan consensus in favor of it and that the handful of crazies will make a lot of noise but won’t set policy in the end,” one Republican foreign policy insider told me. “As long as Ukrainians seem to be winning, and it doesn’t cost us anything real, I think it should be fine.” (When I asked what they meant by “anything real,” the insider explained: “Americans aren’t getting killed.”)

Democrats I spoke to were a little spooked by the level of dysfunction this foretold. (“I don’t know how the House even funds the U.S. government right now, never mind the Ukrainians,” one Democratic Senate staffer said, and a Democratic senator texted that all kinds of aid would now be in danger because “it is the leverage of the few that will make everything much more difficult over in the House.”) But it was the Republicans who were the most confident that aid to Ukraine would be safe from the Never Kevins. “I actually don’t think there will be problems with Ukraine aid regardless of what happens in the House,” a Senate leadership aide told me. “Ukraine aid has never gone on its own, it always rides along with something else, like the omnibus. Democrats can always insist on adding it and, as long as there’s a strong bipartisan consensus and the White House is strongly in favor of it, I really don’t think there will be a problem, despite what the House Freedom Caucus is saying.” Moreover, the aide added, the Senate, where support for Ukraine is rock solid, can always originate bills that are then voted on in the House. 

Once again, though, as I’ve previously pointed out, much of the tens of billions of dollars that Congress has allocated to Ukraine is being spent here, in the U.S., on weapons made in American factories, for American companies, by American workers. HIMARS rockets, for example, are manufactured by Lockheed Martin in places like Camden, Arkansas, which Sarah Huckabee Sanders carried by nearly 30 points in November. This facility has been benefiting handsomely from Ukraine aid being shelled out on the Hill. 

Lockheed also makes Javelins, the mascot of the early Ukrainian resistance. The anti-tank rockets are manufactured in Troy, Alabama, which Trump carried by 18 points in 2020. Raytheon, which makes the surface-to-air missiles (NASAMS) that have been ordered for Ukraine, manufactures them in Tucson, Arizona, a crucial swing state. Raytheon also makes Patriot missiles, which the Biden administration has just approved for Ukrainian use, in Huntsville, Alabama, one of the reddest states in the nation. Moreover, these are high-skilled, high-paying manufacturing jobs—the exact kind of jobs that Republicans have talked about returning to the U.S.

“It’s insane that people don’t understand that,” said the Republican Senate leadership aide. “This is money for jobs in America to produce weapons that are made in America. We’re not sending money to Ukrainians to just go shopping wherever they want. We’re sending them money that’s spent in America on American-made weapons.” And much of the money being allotted for Ukraine is actually going to replenish the Pentagon’s own stocks, to replace what the United States has already sent to Ukraine. Then again, the aide added, “I think people that talk about a blank check to Ukraine are not honest actors. They understand what they’re doing.”