U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

February 17,, 2024

Presidential Propriety

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

This weekend, as we celebrate Presidents Day, I wonder what some of our most notable American Presidents would think about the recent comments from one particular former Commander-in-Chief, who said he would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to NATO member countries who have not spent enough on defense.

President Harry Truman, who spoke at the alliance’s treaty signing ceremony said NATO, “would create a shield against aggression and fear of aggression—a bulwark which will permit us to get on with the real business of… achieving a fuller and happier life for all of our citizens.”

I think Truman would have been appalled by the idea that NATO countries – who each agree to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on military expenses – should be hit with what can only be described as a common mafia shakedown.  

President Ronald Reagan, in his 1988 address from the Map Room at the White House highlighted NATO’s strategy for peace, “be strong enough, be determined enough so that no adversary would think even for a moment that war might pay.”

A Republican icon, I believe Reagan would be horrified by any comments coming from any American promoting Russian aggression against our Allies and partners.

Vladimir Putin has already attacked Ukraine in a brutal invasion that has cost hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and his forces control parts of neighboring Moldova and Georgia.

At heart, the Russian president is still a KGB agent who has never turned away from the legacy of crushing the rebellion in Hungary in 1956, or the reforms in Czechoslovakia in 1968, or the declaration of martial law in Poland in 1981.

Putin is always looking for weakness in Western democracies, so the recent comments only serve to make a Russian attack more likely.

The truth is that many of our NATO allies, who live with nothing more than a border checkpoint separating them from Russia, are paying more than their fair share of defense spending.

Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland all spend more than the 2 percent target and Poland spends more as a percentage of its GDP than even the United States.

These nations take the danger of a Russian invasion seriously because they look at what has happened across Ukraine, at the destroyed apartment buildings, hospitals and kindergartens, at the bodies left in the muddy streets of Bucha. They don’t want the same thing to happen to them.

Pro Putin comments not only put our allies on Europe’s Eastern flank at risk, but they also put American servicemembers at risk who would be on the front lines if Putin attacks the Suwalki Gap from Belarus, or fires rockets from Kaliningrad.

As the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it is important that I counter the recent comments with a clear and important message: the United States stands shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies today, and we will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our NATO allies in the future.

That is why today I’m at the Munich Security Conference delivering this message in person. Despite the nonsense being spewed by some, the U.S. Congress is a reliable partner. It is why there is a provision in the recently approved National Defense Authorization Act that basically says no president can unilaterally withdraw our nation from NATO.

I am also proud that a few weeks ago the REPO ActRebuilding Economic Prosperity and Opportunity for Ukrainians Act – passed out of our committee by a vote of 20-1, underlining our unity against Putin’s aggression. Confiscating central bank assets of a foreign country with which we are not at war would be a first for the United States. And of course, just this week the Senate finally approved the national security supplemental funding request that, if passed by the House, will help Ukraine fight back against Putin’s attacks on its sovereign territory. These concrete actions send critical messages showing the bipartisan resolve of our nation.

War is never a good thing. It is a failure of diplomacy. But on this Presidents’ Day 2024, with Russia continuing its unprovoked war in Ukraine and doing all it can to destabilize Western democracies, let us heed the wisdom of President George Washington, who said in his first address to both houses of Congress, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”

Thank you for your time. Please feel free to reply to this email with your thoughts on this topic or any other. I value your feedback.


Ben Cardin