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OPINION: Risch breaks with Trump on Ukraine

by CHUCK MALLOY/Guest Opinion
| August 4, 2023 1:00 AM

Don’t get Idaho Sen. Jim Risch started on Ukraine.

On second thought, do. That is, if you want to see energy, passion and a dose of common sense. Risch, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, turned a breakout session of the recent Aspen Security Forum into quite a show, and received some generous applause from global leaders in the audience.

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, who shared the stage with Risch, needled the Idaho senator for displaying “low energy and limited passion” with Risch’s remarks about Ukraine. The animosity between Republicans and Democrats, that we keep hearing about, was not on full display on this day. Risch and Coons have been friends and colleagues for a long time, and they happen to agree that the U.S. should support Ukraine’s fight against Putin and Russia.

For those who may be scoring at home, Risch made the boldest statement of the session.

“The war is over as far as who’s lost,” he said. “Russia has lost. The Ukranians haven’t won, but Russia has lost. Their objective was to occupy that country. They are never going to occupy that country. (The Ukranians) will fight with sticks and stones in the streets, which Putin has now figured out and the rest of the world has figured out.”

Wow! Political leaders in the U.S. know something about lost causes — the withdrawal of troops in Vietnam during the '70s … leaving Iraq almost 20 years after President George W. Bush proclaimed that the mission was accomplished … and the embarrassing retreat from Afghanistan. Risch, for one, doesn’t want to add Ukraine to the Hall of Shame, and he offers a nice reality check to the situation.

There is some bipartisan resistance to continuing support for Ukraine. Even some Republicans in the presidential race, including former President Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have raised doubts about continuing support for Ukraine. Trump says he will pull U.S. support for Ukraine if he wins the presidency, which puts Risch in an awkward position. Risch avoided public disagreements with Trump during his four years in office — and the Idaho senator’s stance on Ukraine is clearly at odds with the Republican frontrunner.

For the moment, Risch and Coons — as voices of reason — are telling their colleagues that now is not the time to pull away.

“We have not only a moral obligation to do this, we’ve got a legal obligation to do this,” Risch said. “One of the most important reasons is if you think Xi (China’s leader) isn’t watching every single thing that goes on as far as our commitment to the see this though, you’re badly mistaken. He is watching this — and I have reason to believe that for a fact — very, very closely, and watching every utterance that comes out of the United States Congress, out of the administration, and out of the American people as to what kind of a stomach we’ve got to see this thing through.”

Risch says give Ukranians cluster bombs and all the ammunition they need, short fo nuclear weapons.

“I’m tired of hearing about escalation,” he said. “If you don’t escalate, you’re going to lose. I want Putin to wake up in the morning worried about what he’s going to do that’s going to cause us to escalate, instead of us wringing our hands and saying ‘we can’t do that.’”

As Risch sees it, the U.S. should do everything in its power to stop Putin. When it’s over, he says, the Russians should pay.

“It’s easy to say ‘oh, this is Putin’s war.’ I have no doubt that when Putin’s gone, Russia’s going to say that this was his war, it was a terrible mistake, we had nothing to do with it,” Risch said. “The Ukranians are not going to buy that. They’re going to insist that the Russian people pay the price for this.”

First, Putin will have to admit defeat — which is a tall order. It’s safe to say that the Russian dictator won’t be reading memos from Risch anytime soon.

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Chuck Malloy, a longtime Idaho journalist and Silver Valley native, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at