We must be the promoters of freedom

Published 8:44 am Wednesday, September 24, 2014

By U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

There is no question we live in the greatest country on the face of the earth. People the world over look to the United States as a beacon of freedom and democracy. The question becomes whether or not the United States will always answer the call for help when other countries want to replicate our freedoms.

Last week, the House of Representatives held a rare Joint Session of Congress with the Senate to hear remarks from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. In his remarks, President Poroshenko made a passionate case for more United States support in Ukraine’s fight against Russia.

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President Poroshenko’s speech was received well by both Democrats and Republicans. There was visible frustration with President Obama’s refusal to provide Ukraine the resources they need to win their battle for freedom.

President Poroshenko summed up his country’s struggle by saying, “there are moments in history when freedom is more than just a political concept. At those moments, freedom becomes the ultimate choice, which defines who are you.” Our own nation experienced this moment in our battle for independence from Great Britain, and now Ukraine is facing a similar fight.

As you may remember, last year the people of Ukraine stood up to the corrupt, oppressive regime of their former president. Through peaceful protests, they raised awareness of the government’s cruel tactics and corruption only to be attacked by government police. Ultimately, the people of Ukraine succeeded in forcing the crooked leader from office and replacing him with a democratically elected president.

During this time of turmoil, Russia saw an opportunity to exert force and aggression in the region, and they successfully annexed Crimea, a portion of Ukraine. Russia began arming, enticing, and supplying separatist rebels who intend to make Ukraine a part of Russia. The separatist fighters include Russian military and special operations forces. In fact, it is widely believed that Russian supplied missiles were used to down a Malaysia airlines flight over Ukraine, which killed all 298 innocent civilians on board.

To this day, Ukraine is locked in a serious conflict with separatist rebels and Russia. As a smaller nation, Ukraine lacks some of the resources necessary to wage a large-scale fight against a world power like Russia. While the United States has provided some resources to Ukraine and placed sanctions on Russia, I believe we can do more to stand with the Ukrainian people in their quest for freedom and democracy.

Ukraine doesn’t need the United States to fight this fight for them. They have proven they are willing to fight for themselves, but they need weaponry and ammunition. Their needs are very similar to our own need for guns and ammunition from the French during the American Revolution.

After the speech, I had the opportunity to shake President Poroshenko’s hand. I looked him in the eyes and said, “We are with you.” He looked straight back at me and responded, “I know you are because I can feel it.” That exchange has been stuck in my mind ever since.

President Ronald Reagan famously declared the United States as “a shining city on a hill.” We are a country that other nations look to for direction, guidance, and support. I know the United States cannot involve ourselves in every conflict around the globe, but we must be willing to answer the call when countries are seeking democracy.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is the representative for the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.