Ahead of a promised, sustained “counteroffensive” push against the invading Russian military, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is winning renewed and heightened weapons backup from his allies.
But the timing of more war preparations is coming as the financial underpinnings of support in the United States are hitting a shaky moment.
Even as President Joe Biden, under pressure from other allied leaders, is now offering training on modern and lethal F-16 fighter jets, Biden is neck deep in crisis talks with Republican opponents about U.S. spending on a wide scale that certainly will include pressure to cut back on aiding the Ukrainians.
Of course, everything about the conduct of these debt ceiling showdown talks between the most extreme but controlling elements of the U.S. House and the White House are ugly, unnecessary, and dangerous. Even the threat that the United States either will have to default on some payments or do some kind of fancy financial legerdemain to stay within its legal debt spending is destabilizing. By all accounts, those talks are marked more by difference than agreement.
The spending cuts that will be required to make for a successful negotiation to sidestep the issue will carry ill effects for all but the richest, likely will not accomplish what even opponents want, and certainly will end up endangering U.S. leadership in the world.
But in a direct sense, the nonsensical squabbling in Washington is threatening to whether Ukraine will be able to successfully repel the Russians. The hundreds of billions of dollars that the U.S. has committed to Ukrainian defense will be running out soon, and there are serious questions about whether these same ultra-Right House members in Washington will support renewal and sustenance of the war effort.
Voices of Isolation
The House’s loudest voices from the Right are basically isolationist in tone: The oversimplified argument is that the U.S. government should keep its money for U.S. citizens, not in faraway defense of democracy.
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, a conservative Republican freshman from Florida, is among those who say Ukraine ranks low on her constituents’ concerns.
As The New York Times reported last month, Luna is among the boisterous proponents in Congress of Donald J. Trump’s “America first” worldview that regards financial commitments overseas with extreme skepticism. Like Mr. Trump, they maintain that every dollar spent on Ukraine “is a dubious investment of taxpayer money that could have been better used on domestic priorities, like fighting the spread of fentanyl.”
Senior Republicans who support the war, and maintain the party’s hawkish traditions, fear the movement will gain momentum as the conflict grinds on and Trump’s candidacy consumes the spotlight, the paper reported. Speaker Kevin McCarthy has declared that Ukraine would not receive a “blank check” from the United States, but he supports fighting the Russians. But that’s not the case for Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, or Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., or Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and more.
Indeed, a recent survey found that 52 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents do not think U.S. interests are at stake in Ukraine. Another found that 57 percent of Republicans opposed providing weapons and financial support to Ukraine.
They are the same people pushing for spending cuts in this invented debt crisis, which, regardless of specific outcome, will melt into a continuing battle over spending until the next elections.
The Biden Question
For Biden, the calculus over Ukraine has been how to best provide specific support for the most immediate defense against occupying Russian forces without threatening a spread of war to Russia itself. Primarily out of such concerns, Biden has dragged his heels about providing aircraft and training to Ukrainian pilots to be most militarily aggressive on the battlefield.
But the results of delay in the air war have allowed for bombardment and drone attacks on residential areas, threats on nuclear and conventional power and water plants and civilian hospitals and schools. A Ukrainian with whom I talk regularly described the effects of an attack on a nearby munitions storage area near her defenseless Western Ukraine city, with attacks breaking nearly all the windows in the area, breaking water supplies and forcing yet more people to flee to what they hope is safer ground.
By agreeing to supply training to Ukrainian pilots on F-16s – not the newest air weaponry we have – Biden is committing to providing some number of jets as well, though there has been no such announcement. Other countries, including Poland, are already doing so, and the United Kingdom and Canada are reported to be pushing Biden to join.
Meanwhile, we’re hearing Trump simply assert that he alone could unilaterally stop the war in 24 hours without offering an iota of how, nor does he pledge support either for Ukraine over Russia, or for democracy over Vladimir Putin’s autocratic ways. Clearly, Trump wants to cede Ukrainian territory to Russia to gain some kind of temporary halt in Russian aggression.
Zelensky’s whirlwind tour of allied capitals in search of more weapons and aid seems to be winning continuing pledges, but the coincidental timing of coming as U.S. domestic political standoffs are hitting seem more than odd.
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