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Politics: Ok, Biden, You Have Your Aid Bill Now

POLITICS: OK, Biden, you have your aid bill — now stop being intimidated by Russia and give Ukraine the weapons it needs

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The House vote on the four bills that provide assistance to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan on Saturday provided yet another illustration to the old adage, attributed to Winston Churchill, that one can always count on the Americans to do the right thing – after they have tried everything else.

While the United States needed to act with more urgency to deter all its adversaries around the world, it was arguably in Ukraine that protracted congressional inaction has had the most severe consequences.

As Ukraine’s anti-air capabilities are being depleted, Russians are killing scores of civilians in their attacks on cities and non-military infrastructure.

Slowly but surely, Russian forces are making advances on the battlefield, which raises the risk of a partial collapse of Ukrainian defenses.

The Ukraine bill, which provides almost $61 billion in funding to help Ukraine’s military and public finances, alongside a substantial amount to modernize and replenish US stockpiles, is the largest of the supplemental bills hitherto authorized by Congress.

Indeed, its original rationale was to cover Ukraine’s needs throughout 2024. 

Paradoxically, the long delay had one unintended benefit in spurring new European initiatives, such as the Czech plan to source artillery shells from hidden sources around the world or French President Emmanuel Macron’s new commitments to Ukraine’s security.

With US assistance back in the game, it is not yet too late to turn the tide. 

That said, the aid is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for Ukraine’s victory. What is needed as well is a change of strategy on the part of the Biden administration. For one, it is clear that “for as long as it takes” is no longer a viable or credible approach towards underwriting Ukrainian efforts.

The most recent supplemental bill was passed thanks to almost superhuman effort on the part of Speaker Mike Johnson and required a degree of bipartisanship that remains an exception, not a rule, in Washington.

Moreover, Ukraine’s losses on the battlefield as DC dithered should have shown to the White House that its current levels of ambition and strategic clarity do not rise to the occasion.

It has been the self-deterrence of the administration and fears of Russian escalation that have both restricted Ukrainians’ freedom of action and eroded the political case for helping Ukraine at home. 

Of course, we must defer to the Ukrainians in their decisions to strike logistics and energy infrastructure on Russia’s territory.

Kyiv has no “offensive” ambitions toward Russia – it is merely seeking to reconstitute its territory as recognized by a plethora of international institutions and norms. 

As President Biden signs the bill into law, he needs to address the American people and explain what Ukraine’s final victory looks and why it matters to the United States.

But he must also urge his secretary of defense and his national security team to shed their fear of Russian response to our assistance to the Ukrainians.

While it is imperative to get in particular air defenses and ammunition to Ukraine as fast as possible, the supplemental cannot provide an excuse for Biden to return to business as usual as seen over the past two years.

Ukrainians need their own air power as well as high-precision, long-range artillery – and they must be allowed to use both, without string attached, in order to make Russia’s control over occupied territories untenable.

Make no mistake. The closer Ukraine gets to a liberation of Crimea – a goal that is not as farfetched as naysayers make it appear – Kremlin’s unhinged mouthpieces will escalate their nuclear bluster.

Unlike in the past, the Biden team must respond with equanimity and urge peaceniks in European capitals such as Berlin or Budapest to grow a spine.

As members of Congress from both political parties noted with eloquence in the floor debate on Saturday, this is not merely a fight over Ukraine’s territory; this is a fight for the survival and security of the West, in which we cannot be intimidated by a tinpot dictator. 

Dalibor Rohac is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC. Twitter: @DaliborRohac.



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