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Ron DeSantis is moving away from his previous hawkish foreign policy


When Ron DeSantis first ran for a U.S. House seat in Florida in 2012, the retired Navy officer won the backing of one of the most vocal defense hawks. view of the Republican Party.

John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations known for his sharp elbows and pugilist approach to foreign policy, spoke at a fundraiser in Washington for the political newcomer, who went on to win the seat . Impressed with DeSantis’ record and his understanding of the “dangers we face overseas,” Bolton would also back his re-election bids with $20,000.

Now governor of Florida and a likely presidential candidate, DeSantis has begun to move away from the warmongering rhetoric that gripped Bolton a decade ago and continued through his three terms in Congress.

The most profound evidence came this week, when, in response to questions from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, DeSantis said protecting Ukraine was not a ‘vital’ national interest for states -United. The stance aligns DeSantis, who has yet to declare his candidacy, with former President Donald Trump at a time when the two appear to be on a collision course for the Republican nomination in 2024.

In interviews Thursday, Bolton – who is considering a bid for the president himself to stop Trump from serving another term – said he was disappointed with DeSantis’ stance and said he risked being called a “flip-flopper” by the former president.

“The problem with trying to align with Trump on any given position is that his positions are very evanescent,” Bolton said. “Moving around to try to mirror what Trump is saying, you might follow him for a whole week. Trump tries different lines of attack; the seesaw seems to be the starting point.

“I can’t say I followed every aspect of some of the things he did in Florida,” Bolton added. “But my impression, certainly on national security issues as a governor dealing with issues in this hemisphere – Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua – he was always on the right track.”

A DeSantis spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

In response to Carlson this week, DeSantis invoked several “vital national interests” including border security and the rise of China, but said that “getting further embroiled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia was not one of them”.

Trump — leading in most polls but aware that the governor is, for now, his biggest potential rival — noted that DeSantis has taken a much tougher line on Ukraine in the past. In Congress, he passed several defense bills that provided for U.S. military and intelligence support.

“It’s a flip-flop,” Trump told reporters during his campaign this week in Iowa, which is to host the first GOP presidential caucus. “He was totally different. Everything I want, he wants.

DeSantis cut the figure of a traditional Republican defense hawk as a congressman from 2013 until he stepped down from his seat in 2018, during his run for governor. He has taken a particularly hard line in favor of Israel, sponsoring moves to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, limit US support for the Palestinians and allow states to impose their own sanctions on Iran. On the latter issue, DeSantis sharply criticized then-President Barack Obama’s entry into a multilateral nuclear deal that Trump later abandoned.

As a freshman lawmaker, DeSantis split from most of his party by voting against ordering Obama to end the war in Afghanistan. His warmongering was on display again in 2016, when he voted for a resolution calling on Obama to “provide Ukraine with deadly defensive weapons systems to strengthen the ability of the Ukrainian people to defend their sovereign territory against unprovoked and continued aggression of the Russian Federation.”

While DeSantis generally supported defense policy and spending bills, he occasionally broke with his GOP colleagues over U.S. military intervention overseas, funding to maintain a war-era nuclear weapon. cold war and nation-building assistance. He found himself in the minority of Republicans who tried unsuccessfully to block a non-binding amendment that expressed support for the removal of Bashar Al-Assad from power in Syria in 2013. He also voted to strip funds from the B-61 nuclear bomb and cut infrastructure spending in Afghanistan.

In 2017, when Trump was in office and DeSantis was chairman of the House Foreign Affairs panel subcommittee, he was asking tough questions about the US mission in Afghanistan.

“Today, after more than 16 years in Afghanistan, it’s not clear that things are much better than they were after the fall of the Taliban,” DeSantis said during a hearing with the special inspector general overseeing US programs there. “Is Afghanistan about to become a terrorist’s dream again? Do we always make the same mistakes? Should we just be done with this whole Godforsaken place? Or should we fear that ISIS now has a dangerous affiliate, ISIS-K, in Afghanistan that yearns to reach and strike at the American homeland. How can we do it right? Or can we?

There have been other instances where warmonger DeSantis pushed back or clashed with Trump’s more isolationist impulses. He called on Trump in 2017 to “put extra pressure” on Nicolás Maduro’s regime after he successfully sponsored a House resolution condemning “the political, social, economic and humanitarian crises” under the Venezuelan dictator’s watch. Trump, in later years, would show interest in meeting with Maduro.

Also in 2017, during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing with State Department officials, DeSantis called North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a “young, plump, immature kid.” Trump has pleased the dictator, holding summits with Kim and marveling at the “beautiful” communications between them.

Taken together, DeSantis’ positions demonstrated a worldview that favored the projection of American force, particularly in defending allies against their enemies, but allowed limits to the use of that power.

Another announced Republican hopeful, Nikki Haley – like Bolton, a former US ambassador to the UN – parted ways with Trump and DeSantis this week, while mocking the Florida governor for “copying” the posture of the former president on Ukraine and served as an “echo” not a “choice” for voters.

“Unlike other anti-American regimes, [Russia] is trying to brutally expand by force into a neighboring pro-American country,” Haley said in response to Carlson’s question about Ukraine being a vital US interest. “She also regularly threatens other American allies. America is much better off with a Ukrainian victory than a Russian victory, including avoiding a larger war.”

As Trump’s top alternative in a GOP primary that could feature several vehemently anti-Trump candidates that split the vote, DeSantis must strip the former president’s conservative votes, a Republican strategist unaffiliated with a law firm has said. campaign or a potential candidate. Rushing to the populist right on the Ukraine issue might help.

“DeSantis recognizes that he cannot lead the moderates to victory,” said the strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “It’s a risky strategy. He’s going to lose people doing this. The question is, does this open the door to the people he needs to beat Trump?

DeSantis’ pivot away from those positions amid an anticipated presidential campaign has drawn arrows from not just rivals but boosters as well. On Wednesday, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal — part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

“Mr. DeSantis has issued more hawkish notes on Russia in the past, and the press will present them as contradictions,” the editorial board wrote. does Ron DeSantis believe, anyway?

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.