Maria Salazar Misses the Point on Russia and Ukraine | National Review

Maria Salazar Misses the Point on Russia and Ukraine | National Review

Representative Maria Elvira Salazar (R., Fla.) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., May 20, 2021.
(Ken Cedeno/Reuters)

Last week, a reporter on the street asked Congresswoman Maria Salazar (R., Fla.) whether she supported a no-fly zone in Ukraine. “I support everything that has to do with punishing Vladimir Putin and helping the Ukrainians,” she said. When asked whether that would “mean direct conventional warfare with Russia, she responded, “I don’t know what it would mean, but you know, freedom is not free.” The reporter pushed back: “So you don’t know what a no-fly zone would mean — you do have to shoot down Russian planes.” “Of course!” Salazar said.

Last night, the Republican freshman appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show to “clarify” her position. Here’s the opening exchange:

Carlson: “You said we should shoot down Russian planes. That’s of course war.”

Salazar: “I didn’t say that.”

Carlson: “You just said that on tape we played.”

Salazar: “Yeah, but that was taken out of context. Because I said of course I know what that means. That interview was not very well conducted and that’s why I’m here, because I want to clarify my position.”

In fairness, one could see how Salazar’s “of course!” in the initial video clip was meant as a response to the reporter’s query about the meaning of a no-fly zone rather than an endorsement of the U.S. military shooting down Russian planes. When pressed, however, on the potential dangers of a no-fly zone, the congresswoman repeatedly dismissed concerns about nuclear retaliation as “hypothetical.” 

Rather than opposing a U.S.-backed no-fly zone over Ukraine — which, as NR’s editors recently noted, “could well result in the most intense combat to control the skies since the Korean War” — Salazar appeared to suggest that it should not be entirely removed from consideration as a possible option. “My position is that we should not take a no-fly zone off the table,” she told Carlson. “But before that, that’s two — we need to do one. And one is to give Zelensky exactly what he’s asking for. No troops on the ground. Let’s give him the MiGs and S-300s, what he needs to defend his own airspace, so that he can create his own no-fly zone. And I think that’s what we should have done months ago. It’s embarrassing that this guy — this president who is under the bullets — has come to Congress to beg for us to give him something we should have done a long time ago.”

That remarkable turn of phrase — “it’s embarrassing” that Zelensky “has come to Congress to beg for us to give him something we should have done a long time ago” — seems to color Salazar’s view of foreign policy. “Who am I to say what’s correct and what’s incorrect coming from Zelensky?” she said of a potential declaration of NATO neutrality for Ukraine. When pressed further on that position, she reiterated: “If Zelensky comes to the United States Congress and he says that this is the best path forward, we are no one to say something to the contrary.” Tucker retorted that Salazar was “an American policy-maker.” But it didn’t seem to register. “If the Ukrainians want to go that route, they have the right to and we are no one to say anything about it because they are the ones dying on the streets and they are the ones under siege,” she maintained.

Zelensky and the Ukrainian people have behaved heroically in defense of their country. But they don’t — or at least, they shouldn’t — dictate American foreign policy. The American people do, via the politicians they elect to represent them. At times, it was unclear whether Salazar recognized a difference between American and Ukrainian interests. She did tell Carlson that she was “representing what” her district “think[s],” arguing that “if we believe . . . that this is just gonna be the first or the last confrontation with a bad actor, we’re in for a very big surprise. Because if we do not confront bad actors with strength, then we’re gonna have China and Russia and Iran and Fidel and Venezuela and Nicaragua — they’re watching what we’re doing.” And perhaps that’s true — the congresswoman would certainly be in good company in making the case for such a position. But American interests are a distinct entity, and should be regarded as such by American policy-makers. “What Zelensky says, goes,” is not how our foreign policy is supposed to work.

The United States has rightly signaled that we are unambiguously on the Ukrainian people’s side in this conflict. But that doesn’t mean that it’s in our interest to say yes to every Ukrainian request. For all of Salazar’s equivocation, Zelensky’s repeated calls for a U.S.-backed no-fly zone would be a disaster for the United States, and for the West more broadly. Maybe Salazar is right that a failure to confront Putin aggressively would be bad for America. But if her first concern is American interests rather than Ukrainian ones, she should also consider how an overly aggressive response to Putin could result in catastrophe here at home. The congresswoman says that “we are no one to say anything” about what happens in Ukraine. But it’s billions of dollars of American weapons that are being sent to the country, providing “unprecedented assistance,” according to recent remarks from President Biden. She might want to think more about Americans.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.