Heritage Foundation head defends think tank’s Reaganite credentials on Ukraine aid

Heritage Foundation
Kevin Roberts, president of The Heritage Foundation, introduces former British Prime Minister Liz Truss to deliver the 2023 Margaret Thatcher Freedom Lecture at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy institute in Washington, Wednesday, April 12, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Heritage Foundation head defends think tank’s Reaganite credentials on Ukraine aid

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A top conservative think tank has become increasingly critical of Congress pushing through continued aid to Ukraine, as well as potentially tying it to disaster aid for Hawaii following the deadly wildfires.

The Heritage Foundation is now pushing back against critics of its own, who see the Ukraine war stance at odds with the conservatism of former President Ronald Reagan.

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“I think what some people in town are finding unusual is that Heritage is calling them out for equating Reagan’s peace through strength with something that has never been congruous with that — and that is that we spend money however [and] whenever we want, with no conversation about when we stop spending that money, and for that matter what the strategic objective is,” Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts told the Washington Examiner in an interview.

“That’s not peace through strength. In fact, it’s a road to being very weak,” he added.

Ahead of a battle over spending bills when the House of Representatives returns from recess next week, President Joe Biden requested $40 billion in emergency funding from Congress to cover a variety of matters, including continued support for Ukraine. About $24 billion of the sum would go to Ukraine amid its war with Russia.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has also warned that its disaster relief fund is low, something the emergency package would further address. The recent wildfire in Hawaii has already prompted a response from FEMA, given the significant damage and displacement.

Biden’s ask is a serious concern for Heritage, Roberts explained. “There can’t even be an up or down vote on a stand-alone bill on disaster and emergency relief. It’s being paired, by the president and his allies in Congress, with the Ukraine aid. That does injustice to both policy questions,” he said.

Roberts emphasized that the missing piece with these kinds of packages is conversation and transparency. According to the think tank’s leader, he would be able to accept if the outcome wasn’t ideal so long as a conversation had occurred in the legislature.

Noting that a majority of people now say Congress shouldn’t authorize more funding for Ukraine, Heritage is demanding that aid to the country be cut off until the Biden administration provides “a direct and immediate path to end the conflict in Ukraine and Congress comes up with a way to ensure that our aid is responsibly distributed,” as Roberts wrote in an op-ed last week.

“A clear majority of Americans are opposed to increasing the aid to Ukraine, while they, of course, want the Ukrainians to win,” he said of the poll on Monday.

Roberts maintained that Heritage has been consistent for 50 years. “The main reason that President Reagan called us his think tank is because of our commitment to limited government and limited spending at the federal level,” he explained.

“Occasionally — I might even argue rarely — there are times when the American people ought to spend part of their taxpayer money on helping allies around the world. When that has happened, personified by President Reagan, he was always transparent about why we’re spending the money, what the endgame was going to be, and updated the American people,” he said.

Roberts also drew a distinction between the Soviet Union during the Cold War and Russia today.

“Russia is not the threat that the Soviet Union was in the 1970s. China has taken that place. And we need to be prepared as a people not just to defend our ally Taiwan, but to be able to defend our own people against this,” Roberts said.

“Our men and women of high rank in the Pentagon are fighting the last war rather than preparing for the next war,” he added.

Heritage debuted its ad opposing the Ukraine aid during the first Republican debate. The issue was a source of disagreement among the presidential candidates onstage, though Roberts wished they had focused more on the questions the think tank raised.

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“The conversation, the decision can’t be based on heartstrings. It’s got to be based on these questions that Heritage keeps asking,” he said.

“We’re 100% steadfast that until and unless we have a strategy, we have an endgame, there’s transparency on the money and real accountability, we will remain 100% opposed every single time this comes up in Congress,” Roberts added.

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