DANIEL VAUGHAN: Congress Should Fund Israel And Demand Answers On Ukraine

 November 20, 2023

Congress passed, and the President signed the "two-step" temporary spending plan into law. This plan punts the issue into next year while stalling out funding requests for Ukraine and Israel. Front and center of everything is how the United States decides to approach the wars in Ukraine and Gaza. There are clear answers for one, but less on the other.

Joe Biden and Democrats want to link and fund the two conflicts together. However, Ukraine is getting decidedly more funding. Republicans want to split the two apart and discretely approach both.

The Bifurcation Strategy

By linking the two issues, the White House makes it harder for detractors on both sides to pull funds away from both causes. With Ukraine, Biden wants to prevent Republicans from lowering funding by tying it to Israel. And by attaching Ukraine to Israeli aid, Biden is hoping to counter his left flank, which is full of vile antisemites.

The strategy makes sense, in isolation as a political tool. But it is worth examining the problem.

The Ukraine Problem

First, Ukraine. What is the United States's end goal? Does anyone know at this point? Last year, we had a moment where Ukraine scored a series of stunning victories over Russia, putting Putin's forces on the defensive and moving backward. At no point did the Biden White House attempt to use that as leverage to end the war.

We're now in a moment where funding is less secure, and Ukraine is falling back. Recent reporting says, "Europe and the US increasingly believe that Ukraine will struggle to win significant territory in the near term and are focusing their efforts on enabling Kyiv's forces to hold the line against Russia."

Ukraine is back in a defensive crouch. Furthermore, there's no end in sight to the war. We're in a war of attrition between two powers, one much larger than the other. Ukraine cannot afford a prolonged war of attrition. It's just a sheer numbers game. You cannot expect or ask them to hold out forever.

The US Cannot Fund A Defeat

Even the hawks at the Wall Street Journal are pivoting away, writing a piece entitled, "It's Time to End Magical Thinking About Russia's Defeat: Putin has withstood the West's best efforts to reverse his invasion of Ukraine, and his hold on power is firm. The US and its allies need a new strategy: containment."

Whether you agree with that or not, it's a defined shift away from victory with Russia. But now, with Ukraine on the defensive, Russia has the leverage. Pushing Russia back requires even more monetary and military support. And it's unclear whether the United States is even seeking this kind of solution. There's no sign of any long-term strategy in the White House, Pentagon, or State Department.

With this being the case, it does make sense for Congress to step in and demand answers for what we're funding. It's not about being pro- or anti-Ukraine. We need a strategy at this point. Congress must push for defined goals and then find a way to execute them. We're not seeing anything public or private to indicate these goals exist.

Israel Is An Easy Case To Fund

Israel is an entirely different situation. We know what the immediate goals are: 1) Completely eradicate Hamas in Gaza and Israel. 2) Hold Gaza to prevent a return of Hamas. 3) Hold off other regional powers from making a play in the middle of this chaos. It's also clear what US aid would fund, from the Iron Dome to intelligence sharing.

How Israel handles the long-term issue of Gaza and the West Bank is a serious issue but not something we have to worry about now. There are immediate goals that must be tackled before the long-term can even be considered.

We have one war with no clear goals, strategy, or outcome versus one with obvious parameters and end goals. Congress can hammer out funding for Israel easily. I get why the White House wants to put these two things together. But Congress has a reason to demand answers. Congress needs to force the White House to develop, at a minimum, an idea of where things are headed.

Congress Should Step In

Without that, there's reason for Congress to withhold funding for Ukraine. There's no reason to hold up Israeli aid. That conflict is active, civilians are in danger, and American lives - via hostages and travelers abroad - are actively at stake. Getting that funding out the door is a no-brainer.

If Biden can provide a plan for Ukraine that makes sense to everyone, then we can fund that. But ever since Vladimir Putin launched his war in Ukraine, there's been nary a hint of strategy from this White House. That needs to change before American funds continue. If we're ultimately funding defeat, we shouldn't waste time, money, and resources on something lost. There are other causes, even beyond Israel, that demand those. If a form of victory is the goal, let's hammer out a plan to get there.

There's a broad reason to defend Ukraine that's easy to support. But it's impossible to tell what this White House aims to do. Fund Israel and get answers on Ukraine. Congress has a role here, and Speaker Mike Johnson is right to press that issue with the White House.

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