HE has the foreign policy heft of one of those plastic toys McDonald's gives away with a Happy Meal. And he wants to be America’s next president.

No, I don’t mean the vulgar old cartoon spiv Donald Trump, I am talking about his equally populist but better groomed arch-rival Ron DeSantis.

The Florida governor – currently waging a cruel, knuckle-dragging culture war in his state’s schools and hospitals – has not actually announced a 2024 run.

US pundits are convinced Mr DeSantis is eyeing the Republican nomination for the White House. Vladimir Putin is certainly hoping so. How come? Because while the Italian-American likes to sound hawkish on China, he is a dove on Russia.

At least that is the signal the rightist gave out this week. Mr DeSantis told Tucker Carlson, the demagogue of Fox News, that getting mixed up in what he termed “a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia” was not an American “vital interest”.

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Let us just stop for a second and reflect on how droolingly dumb it is to characterise the Kremlin’s all-out war as some kind of border tiff. It is nothing of the kind.

Putin invaded Ukraine because he does not think it has a right to exist as sovereign state, because he sees the entire country as a wayward, lost chunk of Russia, whose people are essentially Russians who have been brainwashed by nationalists, Nazis even. How do we know this is his view? Because he repeats it over and over again.

The DeSantis hot take on Ukraine has sparked horror among the remaining conservative establishment of his party.

“To say this doesn’t matter is to say war crimes don’t matter,” Lindsay Graham, the Republican Senator, told CNN. “He’s going to go beyond Ukraine, Putin, if you don’t get that, you’re not listening to what he’s saying.”

Other US commentators equated Mr DeSantis with Neville Chamberlain, the British premier who tried to appease Adolf Hitler. This comparison is entirely unfair, to Chamberlain, that is, not to Mr DeSantis.

HeraldScotland: Heavily bombed homes in Donetsky OblastHeavily bombed homes in Donetsky Oblast (Image: free)

The talking-heads on Kremlin propaganda channels were cock-a-hoop. With reason: they hope they can get something out of the war if Ukraine loses US material support.

America has been partially bankrolling Ukraine. President Joe Biden has not only been supplying weapons and training but billions in direct financial aid that is helping to keep pensions paid and schools open.

Is the US doing enough? Some think not. Phillips O’Brien, war expert at St Andrews University, this week argued that failure to supply the most high-tech weapons means Ukraine will take longer to win, and more people will die.

But – essentially – the Biden White House is continuing a long-term US role as the ultimate guarantor of European security.

Mr DeSantis – and Mr Trump before him – show we can no longer take this for granted. There are plenty of defence and foreign policy wonks who know Europe cannot rely on America any more, not for sure anyway. But do the rest of us?

READ MORE: Scots fall for Putin propaganda

Here in Scotland, even in the midst of an era-defining SNP leadership contest, there is little or no serious discussion on big global issues.

Indeed, when we do talk about things like the Ukraine war many of us find ourselves sucked back in to the stories we told ourselves decades ago.

So, for example, there are still those on our left – and, as Mr DeSantis shows, right – who seem only able to see Russia’s attack on Ukraine through the prism of American imperialism or Nato expansion, or crude empire-era ideas of “spheres of influence”.

Me? I think if you want to ‘get’ what causes Putin’s warmongering you need to try to understand Russia, not someplace else. To be fair, a fair few folk have been on a steep learning curve this last year or so.

Others do not want to do any homework, their geopolitical worldview set in stone. I can see why.

It is 20 years since President George W Bush rolled his tanks in to Iraq. He did so on the back of lies and with the support of British PM Tony Blair.

The horrific neo-con forever wars in the Middle East help to explain the sometimes instinctive distrust of Americans among sections of the the Scottish, British and European left, especially those who came of political age in the early years of this century.

But those conflicts also generated the fatigue which turned whole chunks of the US Right against overseas adventures.

This is the irony of the Twenty-Twenties. While so many of us have been fretting about US “imperialism” another equally potent force has been affecting the global mood: American isolationism.

This strain of US thought did not begin with the “America First” bombast of Donald Trump.

Barack Obama, Mr Trump’s predecessor, was the man in the Oval Office when Putin first attacked Ukraine in 2014, seizing Crimea and waging a proxy war in Donbas. Mr Obama was hardly a full-fat isolationist. But his take then – without the benefit of hindsight – was not that different to Mr DeSantis’s today.

Mr Obama – with Mr Biden as his Veep – slapped some limited sanctions on the Putin regime. But did little more. The White House effectively signalled that it was not up for a big confrontation over bits of southern or eastern Ukraine.

Is there a case to be made that American isolationism emboldened the Putin Kremlin? That it continues to do so? Maybe. The Western response to the rise of aggressive authoritarianism in Russia has varied, from country to country, from time to time. Sometimes Western Europeans too have looked away, preferring business-as-usual with Russia.

Ultimately the current war made in the Kremlin, not in the West, not in Ukraine. But as it keeps raging, the threat of a DeSantis or Trump White House means we Europeans cannot always be sure the Americans have our backs. Are we ready to talk about what a big deal that is?