By Liz Peek
In August, President Biden demanded another $24 billion in aid to Ukraine; the request almost shut down our government.
Avoiding that politically damaging prospect, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in recent days shepherded a spending bill through the House that will keep the government running for the next 45 days, but which omitted Ukraine funding.
Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) was among those who balked at the increased commitment. Speaking to Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo, Garcia said, “We’re spending $12 billion a month in Ukraine; it feels like we’re spending that amount of money just to tie.”
He’s right. Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally invaded a sovereign nation and has committed unspeakable acts of barbarism that must be punished. But we need to know: what’s the plan? How are we going to win or end this war?
This is on President Biden. He needs to speak to the public about our mission in Ukraine and answer tough questions about what the endgame looks like. He needs to explain why protecting the people of that distant nation is more important than protecting the citizens of our own country from the drug cartels in Mexico, which he is utterly failing to do.
He must justify a proxy war that has cost our country $113 billion so far, including money spent replenishing depleted U.S. military stockpiles. That total does not include ancillary costs of the war such as higher food and oil prices.
Americans deserve to know why Europe is not paying more for the defense of Ukraine, a country that borders Poland and Hungary but not the United States. CBS News reports that the U.S. has sent Ukraine $43 billion in weaponry; Europe has contributed $30 billion.
We also need to be reassured that our investment in Ukraine is being rigorously protected. Two Department of Defense Inspector General reports published earlier this year described inadequate tracking of arms sent to Ukraine, and theft of some weapons by criminals.
A recent “60 Minutes” episode on CBS showed about $25 billion in American funds being used to pay the salaries of Ukraine’s 57,000 first responders and to buy seeds for the country’s farmers. In addition, U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing many of Ukraine’s small businesses, much as they did in our country during the pandemic shutdown. The Inspector General of the Small Business Administration has reported that some $200 billion was stolen from our COVID programs; have we managed to prevent that kind of looting in Ukraine, ranked the second most corrupt country in Europe by Transparency International?
Voters have questions, and many are wearying of the war.
A recent CNN poll asked, “Do you think Congress should or should not authorize additional funding to support Ukraine in the war with Russia?” Some 55 percent of respondents were against more aid, while 45 percent supported the extra funding. Asked whether or not the U.S. should do more to stop Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, a majority said we had done enough — a major reversal from 18 months ago.
When asked if they approved of Biden’s handling of the situation in Ukraine, 53 percent of respondents disapproved. And when asked about various threats flowing from the conflict with Russia, respondents were far and away most concerned — at 77 percent — that the war would continue on without a resolution for a long time.
That is why Biden needs to make his case. The president and his allies, and indeed many Republicans, argue that allowing Vladimir Putin to invade and occupy Ukraine means that he will next attack another European country as he tries to rebuild Russia’s lost empire. It is possible that the next target might be a NATO ally, which would possibly draw us into a broader conflict.
Traveling in Ukraine, GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told CBS, “Here’s what we’ve gotten for our investment. We haven’t lost one soldier. We reduced the combat power of the Russian army by 50 percent, and not one of us has died in that endeavor. This is a great deal for America.”
Republican candidate Nikki Haley says a win for Putin in Russia is a win for China. That is probably true, too. But as the war drags on, Americans have become less convinced that the U.S. can (or has the will to) stop Putin, who is being armed by China, Iran and other nations hostile to the U.S.
That concern arises from the serial missteps made by the Biden White House in managing the war. The president infuriated Ukraine officials by initially suggesting that a “minor incursion” by Russia might be tolerated. He then imposed what he described as “severe” sanctions against Moscow but also claimed that the penalties were not meant to forestall an invasion, directly contradicting his own secretary of state.
Those sanctions were meant to bring to bring Russia to its knees, but after an initial jolt to its economy and stock market, the skyrocketing price of oil (and Moscow’s ability to evade U.S.-led efforts to block sales) has led to a rebound. Stocks are higher than they were pre-COVID and manufacturing is expanding at its fastest rate since 2017. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and just recently estimated the Russian economy will grow 1.5 percent this year; previously, the EBRD had forecast a contraction.
Biden has persistently dithered over military support for Ukraine. Tanks or no tanks? Fighter jets or no fighter jets? He has been timid and too late at many key points, allowing Russia to make strides while Ukraine waited for needed weapons.
Economically and militarily, Biden’s efforts have been insufficient. Even his diplomacy has flopped. Russia has strengthened ties with China, where trade has increased 32 percent so far this year and India, where trade with Russia has tripled.
No wonder voters are balking.
Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.
Via: The Hill