With the apparent failure of Ukraine’s spring/summer offensive and the Biden Administration’s refusal to offer a peace plan, President Biden’s latest request for $24 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine landed with a thud on Capitol Hill. If approved, total U.S. aid to Ukraine since the war began in 2022 would reach $135 billion.
Sharp divisions over the Ukraine War at this week’s Republican primary debate reflect similar differences in Congress, with the two leading candidates critical of continuing U.S. military support. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis opposed more funding unless European states stepped up to “pull their weight.” Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy said he would immediately cut off U.S. military aid.
Former President Trump has taken a slightly different approach, calling on Congress to withhold military support for Ukraine until the Biden administration cooperates with congressional investigations into his son Hunter’s business dealings. The former President also has said that if elected, he would negotiate a quick end to the war.
Several debaters strongly disagreed with cutting off U.S. support for Ukraine, with former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and former Governor Chris Christie arguing that U.S. aid to Ukraine is crucial to the security of the United States, and NATO.
Although Congress is likely to approve the Biden Administration’s new Ukraine spending request, there is growing opposition by lawmakers and the American people over continuing to spend huge amounts of tax dollars on a war they view as an endless conflict in which no vital U.S. interests are at stake.
Biden Administration officials in the spring were optimistic that billions of dollars of additional military aid from the U.S. and European states would lead to a successful counteroffensive, enabling the Ukrainian army to retake a significant amount of territory and force Russia to the bargaining table. It didn’t happen. Russian forces had ample time to prepare a dense network of defensive structures to hold their ground, and Ukraine did not receive the type and quantity of weapons it needed—especially airpower.
President Biden finally agreed to Ukraine’s request to provide it with F-16 fighters in May. But the aircraft did not arrive in time for the counteroffensive and likely will be unavailable until next spring due to delays in training Ukrainian pilots.
The Washington Post reported on August 19 that a new intelligence community assessment does not anticipate Ukraine’s counteroffensive to make significant gains on the ground before the fighting season ends in early November. Although this conclusion tracks with other accounts, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said this week, “We do not assess that the conflict is a stalemate. We are seeing [Ukraine] continue to take territory on a methodical, systematic basis.”
According to the Financial Times, however, Biden Administration officials are gloomy about the counteroffensive’s prospects and have been critical of how it has been conducted. The Financial Times reports that U.S. officials believe Ukraine has been too risk-averse and misallocated its forces by concentrating on the east of the front instead of sending more troops to the south.
With the Biden Administration refusing to put forward a cease-fire or peace proposal, other nations have stepped up. Saudi Arabia hosted a 42-nation summit on the Ukraine conflict earlier this month. Although the summit did not make any progress to end the war, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said the meeting set the stage for future peace talks and hopes to hold a follow-up summit. China stole the show at summit while the United States was sidelined.
At this week’s BRICS summit in South Africa, China attempted to build on the Saudi summit when it proposed a new joint China-South Africa peace plan that would make these two nations negotiators to end the Ukraine War.
Given Beijing’s growing relationship with Moscow, China is certain to use any role it might play in a Ukraine War peace process to negotiate an agreement that promotes Russian and Chinese interests at the expense of NATO and the United States.
The Biden Administration on August 10 submitted an emergency funding request for $24 billion for Ukraine, mostly military aid. To make it hard for congressional opponents of U.S. aid to Ukraine to vote against the funding request, the administration included it as part of a larger $40 billion spending package that includes disaster relief for the Hawaii wildfires, border security, and fighting fentanyl trafficking.
The emergency funding request was not well received by the House. Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) declared the Ukraine request is “not going anywhere” and would need to go through the normal appropriations process.
Although a bipartisan majority in Congress appears to support continuing U.S. spending to arm Ukraine, Axios on August 23 quoted a House leadership aide who said support is growing beyond House hardliners to cut off U.S. aid. The aide told Axios: “A lot of the rank-and-file members were pretty clear: We’ve done what we can do, we need to focus on some of our own internal problems now.”
Moreover, in a significant turnabout, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), formerly a staunch supporter of the war effort, said during an August 17 townhall that it is time to wind down direct U.S. aid to Ukraine. “I’m not sure it’s winnable anymore,” Harris said.
Other critics believe the Biden Administration has done almost nothing in the aftermath of the Maui wildfires and want the funds requested for Ukraine spent instead on disaster relief in Hawaii. In a Fox News interview, former Assistant Treasury Secretary Monica Crowley accused Biden of prioritizing Ukrainians over Americans in his response to the Hawaii wildfires and said he is putting America’s interests and the American people last.
Despite the adamant defense of continuing U.S. military aid to Ukraine by Pence, Haley and Christie at the GOP debate, their arguments were out of step with the facts on the ground in the Ukraine conflict and the views of a growing number of Americans and members of Congress who do not want their tax dollars supporting another endless war. Without a major reboot of the Biden Administration’s Ukraine strategy to either ensure a Ukrainian victory that includes recovering most of its territory from Russia (which I believe is impossible) or a comprehensive plan to end the war, there is a strong likelihood that growing opposition will lead Congress to end military aid to Ukraine, probably starting in early 2024.
Fred Fleitz is vice-chair of the America First Policy Institute Center for American Security. He previously served as National Security Council chief of staff, CIA analyst and a House Intelligence Committee staff member.