As U.S. lawmakers gird for battles over how and whether to support Ukraine and Israel in their respective wars imposed by Russia and Hamas, the Biden administration’s request for $106 billion in national security funding is at risk of being dismantled in a politically divided and dysfunctional Congress.
What began as a small radical right-wing Republican bloc in the U.S. House of Representatives opposed to further aid to Ukraine has expanded in the chaotic aftermath of former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ouster two months ago.
McCarthy’s replacement, Rep. Michael Johnson, R-La., has now linked the proposed measures to provide $14 billion to Israel and $60 billion to Ukraine with demands for draconian restrictions on immigration and asylum as migrant flows overwhelm U.S. communities along the Mexican border.
Republicans and Democrats have been deeply divided for decades over how to heal a broken immigration system. The likelihood of resolving those fundamental differences in time to pass the whole security aid package is nil. Congress has less than three weeks to finish the supplemental federal budget it punted at the end of the fiscal year in October and only a couple of weeks in the new year to lift the national debt ceiling before the U.S. government defaults on its obligations.
Johnson’s hitching the aid to U.S. allies with an irresolvable conflict over immigration may have more to do with his allegiance to former President Donald Trump than interest in getting serious about border security. Johnson is among the House members who voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s election after the Trump supporters’ insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. He has voted against Ukrainian aid packages since the Russian invasion 21 months ago. He initially tried to sever the Ukraine piece of the national security funding from the rest of the package and relented only when the proposed gutting of asylum policy was added.
Aside from muddying foreign military policy on aid to embattled allies, politicians have been giving moral equivalence to the two armed conflicts in Ukraine and Israel that actually differ significantly in their evolution.
Russia launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on. Feb. 24, 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin first claimed his “special military operation” was necessary to oust Kyiv’s “neo-Nazi” leaders and prevent Ukraine’s democratically elected government from aligning with the European Union and NATO. Putin has since pivoted to justify his war as a defensive response to those Western blocs he portrays as trying to “dismember” Russia and erase its existence as Hitler and Napoleon tried to do in past centuries.
Ukrainians have defied expectations that Russia would swiftly topple Kyiv and install a puppet government to annex the whole of Ukraine into a Greater Russia. Ukraine under the galvanizing leadership of novice President Volodymyr Zelensky mobilized a fierce defense of the former Soviet republic’s 31-year-old sovereignty and independence. As Russia’s aggression nears two years in duration, waging the war has cost Russia tens of billions in sophisticated weaponry and as many as 190,000 young lives.
The war has ground to a standstill and both Moscow and Kyiv have had to appeal to allies for replenishment of armaments. Russia has received trainloads of artillery shells from North Korea and tens of thousands of attack drones from Iran. With sophisticated weaponry and humanitarian aid from the United States and the European Union, Ukraine has recovered more than half of the territory initially seized by Russian forces, although likely at an equally appalling level of dead and wounded. Neither Russia nor Ukraine discloses their casualty numbers but Western intelligence estimates put both sides over 100,000 killed or “permanently” injured.
The Hamas terror attacks of Oct. 7 clearly violated international law when the militants killed 1,200 Israelis and foreign visitors, then took 240 hostages into Gaza as human shields. Most of those killed and kidnapped were civilians, and less than half of those seized two months ago were freed in last week’s pause in fighting for humanitarian relief.
Unlike Putin’s invented reasons for invading Ukraine, the Hamas atrocities were at least in part fueled by the decades-long efforts of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to sabotage any prospect for achieving a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Under Netanyahu-led governments, Israeli settlements have proliferated in West Bank territory designated for a Palestinian state, undermining efforts to create a cohesive land area to allow Palestinian self-rule. Hamas and Hezbollah, both Iranian-backed extremist groups, have the declared aim of eradicating the state of Israel.
The Israeli Defense Forces’ retaliatory bombing of the densely populated Gaza Strip has killed nearly 16,000 in the Palestinian enclave, two thirds of them women and children. There is no strategy by Israeli or Palestinian leaders as to how the devastated Gaza enclave will be governed or rebuilt after the current war, for which there is no end in sight.
There is also no immediate prospect of an end to Russia’s stalled effort to conquer Ukraine. Putin has cast his country as the victim of Western encroachment into territory he considers Russia’s rightful sphere of influence. Putin’s Russia is surrounded by former states of the Soviet bloc now members of NATO and the European Union. His initial deployment of mercenaries to occupy and seize Ukraine’s Donbas industrial area in the east and the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea was instigated in 2014 by Ukraine’s application for association with the EU, a process that would have likely taken Kyiv 20 years to meet the legal and economic standards for full membership.
U.S. politicians and academics supportive of Ukraine point out to critics that aid to Ukraine is not charity or involvement in a forever war like the U.S. boots-on-the-ground and trillions of dollars spent on fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam. Putin has made no secret of his desire to reclaim the prosperous Baltic states on his northwestern border and the tiny ex-Soviet republic of Moldova sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania. Russian forces have occupied two provinces in the Republic of Georgia since 2008.
Congress has so far approved $113 billion for Ukraine since the invasion began, mostly during the first year when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.
Foreign Affairs published a lengthy blueprint last week outlining a “containment strategy” for Western allies to keep Ukraine armed and supported so it can survive another winter under Russia’s constant bombardment of power plants and water resources.
In “How the West Can Help Kyiv Endure a Long War,” scholars from several U.S. think tanks write that Ukraine and its allies “must face, not fear,” the war’s current grim reality of a counteroffensive that has changed little on the battlefield. The writers do point out important achievements, in particular Ukraine’s devastating attacks on Russian naval facilities and ships in the Black Sea that has stripped away the strategic significance of the Russian-occupied and annexed Crimean Peninsula.
Western allies “should accept and prepare for a multiyear war and for the long-term containment of Russia instead of hoping for either a quick Ukrainian triumph or, absent that, an imminent negotiated solution. An overwhelming victory is not guaranteed by either Ukrainian valor or Russian folly. And any hope that negotiations right now could benefit Ukraine is naive: Russia is not becoming more malleable or more amenable to compromise. In fact, the Kremlin’s aspirations to reshape the whole international order through violent conflict may be more ambitious now than they were a year ago.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul has been making the argument that U.S. aid to Ukraine is an investment in security for all Western countries that might be drawn into Putin’s next war if Ukraine is abandoned by its allies at this crucial moment.
“If moral arguments are not enough, there are four compelling realpolitik arguments for continued assistance to Ukraine,” he outlines in a webcast from his Stanford University office as director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.
- A Ukrainian victory will dramatically diminish the threat from Russia, allowing us to spend less on European defense and send fewer soldiers to NATO bases in the Baltics;
- A Ukrainian victory will make Chinese President Xi Jinping think harder about invading Taiwan;
- A Ukrainian victory would be a win for all those wanting to preserve the rules-based international order established and maintained by the United States since the end of World War II; and
- A Ukrainian victory will advance democratic ideas around the world, including in neighboring Russia and Belarus, and in our great power competition with China and Russia in the 21st century, our democratic values are one of our greatest advantages.
“The stakes could not be higher,” McFaul warns. “Members of Congress, get this done!”