In a striking indication of the American right's increasingly skeptical view of costly foreign interventionism, the Heritage Foundation took an aggressive stance against the $40 billion aid package approved by Congress earlier this month.
In a May 10 statement ahead of the House vote, Heritage executive director Jessica Anderson said,
"This proposed Ukraine aid package takes money away from the priorities of the American people and recklessly sends our taxpayer dollars to a foreign nation without any accountability. America is struggling with record-setting inflation, debt, a porous border, crime and energy depletion yet progressives in Washington are prioritizing a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine."
Noting Congress had approved a $13 billion aid package just two months earlier, Heritage blasted the new aid proposal for its lack of spending offsets and the absence of a guarantee that European countries would make proportionate financial commitments of their own.
Flirting with an "America first" philosophy, the press release was titled, "Ukraine Aid Package Puts America Last."
Though the aid package proceeded apace, Heritage's opposition was particularly significant because it came from conservative flagship with a profoundly hawkish history.
Heritage backed the invasion of Iraq and continued to defend it well after it had been fully revealed as an unjust disaster. A 2007 Heritage FAQ about Iraq asked—given there were no weapons of mass destruction and knowing what we know now—whether Iraq should have been invaded. "Yes," replied Heritage. "Saddam Hussein's regime was a major threat to American interests and the region as a whole."
Heritage was likewise a steady cheerleader for keeping U.S. troops endangered in the fool's errand that was the Afghanistan war, churning out reports with titles like "Afghan Review Shows Troop Surge Working and "Maintain Momentum in Afghanistan."
In a Ukraine-vote post-mortem at the Wall Street Journal, Heritage president Kevin Roberts said his think tank had been accused of "abandoning conservative principles or embracing populist isolationism. Neither charge is true. But in one sense, both are welcome. The war in Ukraine may finally force conservatives into the intramural foreign policy debate they have put off for more than 30 years."
In a promising sign of how that foreign policy debate may be nudging Heritage, Roberts has elsewhere referred to himself as a "recovering neocon," according to the New York Times.
In an interview this week, he told the Times that Heritage's opposition to the Ukraine package, reflects "a real skepticism among the conservative grass-roots about the entrenched conservative foreign policy leadership.”
Roberts told the Times that the dim financial state of the U.S. government was forcing conservatives to reassess the depth of America's foreign engagements:
"There are a lot of heroic people around the world who will have to rely on the resources from other countries. That doesn’t mean that America shouldn’t be involved, but we need to be less involved.”
With an $80 million annual budget and over $381 million in assets as of the end of 2020, Heritage has long been a formidable force in the nation's capital and Republican politics.
And now, there's some reason to think that, where foreign policy is concerned, the avowedly "conservative" Heritage may be steering away from its destructive past and toward policy positions more in line with George Washington than Woodrow Wilson.
NEW????: Congress' approval of a bloated, rushed Ukraine aid package last week showed how disconnected our leaders are from the people, and our concerns.
— Heritage Foundation (@Heritage) May 24, 2022