Wednesday, Feb 21, 2024

Biden Agrees to Send F-16s to Ukraine as Bakhmut Finally Falls to the Russians

 

In a sharp reversal of administration policy, President Joe Biden told U.S. allies at the G-7 economic summit meeting at Hiroshima Japan over the weekend that he would allow Ukrainian pilots to be trained on American-made F-16 fighter jets. Biden also reportedly said that he would permit the transfer of the U.S.-built jet fighter-bombers from Eastern European NATO countries such as Poland, which has already publicly volunteered to send Ukraine some of the older F-16s in its air force inventory.

Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been pleading with the U.S. and its NATO allies to supply advanced Western weapons to help Ukraine overcome the Russian military’s clear superiority in heavy artillery, tanks, anti-aircraft missiles and warplanes.

But one-by-one, under pressure from America’s Eastern European NATO allies, Biden has reluctantly given in to each of Zelensky’s demands for more capable U.S.-made military equipment, with the F-16s representing the most sophisticated weapons yet to be cleared to enter Ukraine’s modernized military inventory.

Biden’s F-16 announcement came during the same weekend that a senior Ukrainian army commander admitted that the Russians had finally captured, at a tremendous cost in the lives of its soldiers, the city of Bakhmut, in the eastern Donbas region, after a very bloody assault which began almost a year ago.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Zelensky who was an honored guest when he paid a surprise in-person visit to the G-7 conference in Japan, claimed that even though Bakhmut may have finally fallen into Russian hands, the recent gains by Ukrainian forces on the city’s outskirts could give them an important tactical opportunity.

Zelensky also said sadly about the lost city, “They [the Russians] destroyed everything. There are no buildings. It’s a pity, it’s a tragedy, but for today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts. There is nothing on this space, just ground and a lot of dead Russians.”

WAS THE FALL OF BAKHMUT REALLY A UKRANIAN DEFEAT?

Like Zelensky, other Ukrainian military strategists have been very reluctant to call the fall of Bakhmut a defeat. Instead, they claim that the huge number of troops which Russia lost in capturing the city will make other areas along the 600 miles of front lines in the war much more vulnerable to a long-anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive sometime in the coming weeks. They also note that the Russian troops now occupying Bakhmut will be coming under artillery fire from Ukrainian positions on the recently conquered high ground just outside the city.

Speaking at the G-7 summit in Hiroshima, President Biden also suggested that the huge number of Russian casualties in Bakhmut, which Western intelligence sources have estimated at about 20,000 dead, and 100,000 wounded, will be “hard to make up.” Commenting on the widely anticipated offensive by the Ukrainian army, Biden also said, “The expectation and hope is that they will be successful.”

Ben Barry a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, based in London, called the Russian conquest of Bakhmut a textbook example of what is known as a Pyrrhic victory, which he defined as “a victory which imposes such casualties on the side that supposedly wins the battle that it actually doesn’t help them achieve their strategic ends.”

The losses that the Russians suffered in Bakhmut also exposed a rare split within the ranks of Putin’s senior military advisors and supporters. Many of the Russian casualties were suffered by mercenaries who had previously been prisoners in Russian jails. They had been hired by the Wagner Group, a private Russian militia that Putin has often used as expendable shock troops to lead frontal assaults on heavily defended Ukrainian-held positions.

DIVISIONS EMERGE AMONG PUTIN’S RUSSIAN MILITARY SUPPORTERS

During the bitter battle for control of Bakhmut, the founder and leader of the Wagner group, longtime Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, repeatedly complained that the Russian army had failed to supply his fighters with sufficient weapons and ammunition, which was one of the main reasons that its casualties were so high. Prigozhin singled out for criticism the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and the Russian military’s Chief of Staff, General Valery Gerasimov for their obstructionism which he blamed for the delay and high cost of the Russian conquest of the city. At the same time, Prigozhin publicly thanked Putin for giving him and his Wagner fighters “this opportunity and high honor to protect our homeland.”

Prigozhin also said, shortly after he declared the conquest of Bakhmut to be complete, that because of the huge losses his fighters suffered there, he would be withdrawing the rest of his Wagner mercenaries from the front lines for re-formation, re-equipment, and additional training.

The defense of Bakhmut cost Ukraine the lives of thousands of its fighters as well, but its casualties were only a fraction of those suffered by Russia, and reportedly did not involve any of its newly trained forces, armed with recently arrived U.S.-made weapons, with which Ukraine plans to launch its spring offensive.

WHY PUTIN NEEDED THE VICTORY IN BAKHMUT

Putin badly needed a victory in Bakhmut, after suffering months of embarrassment due to a series of Russian army defeats on the Ukrainian battlefield. The conquest of Bakhmut, after nearly a year of intensive fighting, is the first clear Russian victory on the ground in Ukraine since the fall of the city of Lysychansk, about 30 miles northeast of Bakhmut, last summer.

The last section of Bakhmut to fall to the Russians was an area about the size of Manhattan’s Central Park filled with high-rise apartment buildings on the far western edge of the city. The neighborhood used to be known as “Plane” because an old Soviet-era fighter plane used to stand at the intersection which marked the western entrance to the city.

The state-controlled Russian news media dutifully celebrated the victory on Bakhmut, with reporters giving all the credit to Putin and his Russian army commanders. One Russian TV news reporter, who declared boastfully “Mission Accomplished,” was probably unaware that the same phrase had deeply embarrassed U.S. President George W. Bush after the initial success of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 quickly turned to ashes due to the rise of a stubborn Iraqi insurgency which followed.

Putin also publicly congratulated the Russian soldiers and the mercenaries of the Wagner group for the “liberation” of the city, which he referred to by its Russian name of Artemovsk. He also promised to present all those who had distinguished themselves in the long battle with state awards.

But Bakhmut, which used to be home to 80,000 civilian residents, is now totally in ruins. Since it has little strategic value on its own, its conquest does little to help Putin achieve his publicly stated primary war goal, the completion of his conquest of the Russian-speaking eastern region of Ukraine known as the Donbas. Even after the fall of Bakhmut, Ukraine’s military is still firmly in control of a large part of the Donetsk region that makes up half of the Donbas. Ukraine has also reinforced the positions and supply lines in the areas it still controls on the city’s outskirts to prevent any further Russian advances.

UKRAINE’S SUCCESSFUL COUNTERATTACK ON BAKHMUT’S OUTSKIRTS

Those areas, totaling 12 square miles to the north and the south of the city, including the strategic high ground overlooking the city, were captured during a 3-day long Ukrainian counterattack launched on May 6. The assault was led by Colonel Andriy Biletsky, the commander of Ukraine’s 3rd Separate Assault Brigade. Biletsky is a former right-wing Ukrainian politician. He previously had founded the Azov regiment which distinguished itself during its months-long bloody battle with large numbers of Russian troops last year for control of the now-largely destroyed port city of Mariupol.

The attack was launched by Ukrainian commanders when they noticed that the Russians were trying to relieve the mercenary fighters who were holding the area with regular Russian troops, in an attempt to take advantage of the resulting confusion. In addition, to maintain the element of surprise, the Ukrainians decided not to use their artillery to try to soften up the Russian defenses in advance, and instead, sent their troops in to attack the front lines behind swiftly moving armored vehicles.

According to a British defense intelligence assessment, during the final days of fighting in the city the Russians had been forced to redeploy “up to several battalions to reinforce” its fighters in Bakhmut, which the British called “a notable commitment” for Russia’s badly overstretched combat forces in Ukraine.

UKRAINE ACHIEVED ITS OBJECTIVES

Colonel Sehiy Hrabsky, a military analyst for the Ukrainian news media, told the New York Times that the Russian capture of Bakhmut should actually be viewed as a Ukrainian victory because, with it, Ukrainian commanders achieved all of their main objectives in making the difficult decision to defend the city rather than withdrawing their troops to safety. They were able to pin down the Russian troops in a protracted fight, killing huge numbers of them in block-to-block and building-to-building fighting which bought more time for Ukraine’s military to prepare and rearm with newly arriving Western weapons for the planned major counteroffensive.

Furthermore, the Russian military is likely to suffer even more casualties in the days ahead, because its troops now occupying the ruined city will be targeted by Ukrainian artillery stationed on the surrounding high ground that Ukrainian troops recently captured.

Therefore, it still remains to be seen whether Putin’s bloody victory in Bakhmut will ultimately be worth its very high cost.

HOW BIDEN GOT PUSHED INTO SENDING MORE ARMS TO UKRAINE

Meanwhile, ever since the Russian invasion 15 months ago, President Biden has consistently resisted increasing the sophistication of the weapons that the U.S. has supplied to Ukraine, for fear that they would provoke Putin to escalate the intensity of the conflict, including the possible use of Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons on the Ukrainian battlefield.

At first, the U.S. supplied Ukraine primarily with defensive weapons, including thousands of man-portable Javelin anti-tank missiles, which proved crucial in enabling Ukraine to halt the initial Russian armored drive to capture the capital city of Kyiv.

In April 2002, the U.S. agreed to send Ukraine 155 mm. mobile howitzer canons, which can hit targets up to 25 miles away, to replace the Soviet-era artillery pieces which Ukraine had inherited at the end of the Cold War, and for which it was having trouble obtaining sufficient quantities of compatible ammunition.

That June, Biden agreed to provide Ukraine with the Himars (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System). The highly accurate guided missiles which the U.S. supplied for the Himars launches have a range of up to 50 miles, and are capable of hitting Russian ammunition dumps and military staging areas far behind the front lines.

However, Ukraine was still at a serious numerical and qualitative disadvantage to the Russians when it came to tank warfare. Biden was reluctant to supply Ukraine with the U.S. Army’s most technologically advanced Abrams M1A2 main battle tanks, and claimed that they would be too difficult for the Ukrainians to operate and maintain. Instead, Biden pledged this January to send Ukraine 50 of the U.S. Army’s smaller and more lightly armed Bradley Fighting Vehicles which are very useful during infantry battles, but are no match in a head-to-head fight with the Russian army’s modern T-90 tanks.

HOW PRESIDENT ZELENSKY FINALLY GOT THE TANKS HE WANTED

Ukraine’s President Zelensky was dissatisfied with Biden’s offer of the Bradleys, and successfully put pressure on Great Britain to send Ukraine its Challenger 2 main battle tanks. That, in turn, shamed the leaders of both the United States and Germany into doing likewise, promising Zelensky enough heavy tanks, including the American-made Abrams and the German-made Leopard 2, to effectively counter Russian armor when Ukraine finally launches its widely anticipated late spring offensive.

The U.S. and its NATO allies also agreed to beef up Ukraine’s air defense capabilities after Putin launched a winter campaign of intense missile attacks intended to destroy Ukraine’s electrical infrastructure. They also include America’s most advanced Patriot anti-aircraft system, which the Ukrainians claim they were able to use successfully to thwart a Russian attack last week using six hypersonic missiles.

But there were still at least two American weapons systems on Zelensky’s wish list which Biden was still withholding from them. One was the longer-range version of the Himars rockets. Another was the highly capable F-16 fighter-bomber, to replace Ukraine’s Soviet-era Mig-29 aircraft, a third of which have been shot down in combat since the invasion started 15 months ago.

WHY BIDEN WAS SAYING “NO”

Zelensky wanted these weapons for the same reason that Biden was reluctant to supply them. They each would give Ukraine the ability to attack military targets deep inside Russia’s borders, which would likely provoke Putin into further escalating the scale of the fighting.

Pentagon officials also said that Ukraine was in much more urgent need of other U.S.-made weapons, especially air defense systems and interceptor rockets, to defend Ukraine’s civilian population centers and critical infrastructure from renewed Russian long-range missile attacks. U.S. officials also argued that providing Ukraine with the fourth-generation F-16s would probably not make much of a difference during the next stage of the war, because the F-16s would still be outclassed in any head-to-head air battles against the latest fifth-generation Russian fighters.

Biden later recounted to reporters that during his brief meeting with Zelensky at the G-7 summit in Japan, he told the Ukrainian president that F-16s would not have made any difference in the outcome of the battle for Bakhmut. But Biden also conceded to reporters that supplying the versatile and very capable warplanes to Ukraine could, “make a big difference in terms of being able to deal with what [fighting] is coming down the road.”

THE F-16’S UNIQUE VERSATILITY

Over the past 40 years, the U.S. and its allies around the world have produced more than 4,600 F-16s. Over 1200 of the aircraft are in service with the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard and Reserve units. Israel also has more than 350 F-16s currently in service, including more than 100 custom-built F16I models equipped with more advanced Israeli-made avionics and weapons systems.

Because America and its allies are slowly replacing their F16s with the much more advanced fifth-generation F-35, many of the older F16s  are now available to send to Ukraine, for which they will still serve as a substantial upgrade for its aging fleet of obsolete Mig-29s.

The latest models of the F-16 are still popular and in production by Lockheed Martin for air forces around the world because of their immense versatility. Extremely maneuverable, capable of reaching speeds in excess of Mach 2 (1,350 miles per hour) and reaching altitudes of up to 60,000 feet, the F-16 is still a very capable dogfighting and interceptor aircraft. It is also relatively inexpensive and simple to maintain compared to other warplanes in its class.

However most important to Ukraine’s military is the F-16s ground attack capabilities, enabling it to provide close air cover for Ukraine’s expected spring offensive, as well as its ability to launch long-range, precision-guided missiles from within Ukrainian air space at military targets hundreds of miles inside Russia borders.

HOW ISRAEL USED ITS F-16S

A prime example of the F16s formidable ground attack capabilities was the successful June, 1981 raid by eight Israeli Air Force F16s which totally destroyed Iraq’s nearly complete nuclear reactor at Osirak, 1,200 miles away from the Israeli runway from which the planes had taken off, without refueling along the way. Ironically, those F16s had originally been ordered by the Shah of Iran. But after the Shah’s overthrow by Iran’s Islamic revolution in 1979, the U.S. decided not to deliver the planes to the new, radical government in Teheran, and offered them instead to Israel.

Biden’s original itinerary had called for him to fly from Japan, after the end of the G-7 meeting, to Papua, New Guinea, and then on to Sydney, Australia, to meet there with the leaders of Australia, India, and Japan before flying back to Washington, DC. However, because of a crisis in Biden’s urgent negotiations with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy over extending the federal government’s debt ceiling, Biden’s meeting in Sydney was canceled and the three heads of states instead came to Hiroshima to meet with Biden there before the end of the G-7 meeting.

While President Biden was flying back to the United States, the White House National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan said in a CNN interview that the United States has already delivered the military equipment Ukraine needs to begin its widely expected counteroffensive and is now working on improving Ukraine’s long-term capacity to deter further attacks by Russia, which includes training its pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets.

Sullivan also said that it was unlikely that the U.S. would provide its own fighter jets to Ukraine, but that it was willing to allow its European allies to send their own surplus F-16s, which are now being replaced by new F-35s, while the United States continues to provide training support and other forms of military assistance. However, Sullivan would not say when the European allies might start delivering the F16s, or when the American training for Ukrainian pilots would begin.

“It is about building a future capability so that for years to come Ukraine is in a position to be able to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Sullivan said. “At every stage, the United States has played a critical role in making sure Ukraine gets what it needs when it needs it. And we will continue to do that.”

BIDEN’S 4-STAGE PLAN TO ARM UKRAINE

Sullivan described the delivery of the F-16s as part of the fourth phase of American military assistance to Ukraine. The first phase was the provision of short-range anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to defend Kyiv during the first days of the war. The second phase was the provision of modern U.S. artillery pieces to aid Ukraine in its trench warfare with the Russians who were seeking to complete the capture of Ukraine’s Donbas region in the east. The third phase, which Sullivan said is the administration’s current primary concern, is supplying the tanks and other military equipment necessary for the success of the coming Ukraine counteroffensive.

He said the president was “focused on the types of systems needed for the phase of the fight that is at hand, and for this counteroffensive he has delivered at speed and at scale what the Ukrainians need.”

The entire world community was shocked by Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and America’s NATO allies in Eastern Europe were justifiably frightened that if Ukraine were to be conquered, they would likely be Putin’s next target.

THE U.S. COMMITMENT TO UKRAINE DEEPENED WITHOUT DEBATE

However, President Biden’s decision to vastly expand the level of U.S. military aid to Ukraine was made without any serious public discussion or congressional debate. As the cost of U.S. aid to Ukraine has climbed to more than $113 billion so far, and counting, some Republican conservatives are raising serious questions about how wisely that money is being spent, and whether at least some of it should be re-directed to deal with urgent domestic U.S. priorities. They have called upon the Biden administration to fully explain its policy goals in Ukraine. These include the limits of the U.S. commitment to help Ukraine defend itself against the Russian invasion, whether it has a viable exit strategy for bringing the war to an acceptable end, and whether its ultimate goal is not only to defeat Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, but also to remove him from power in Russia, as Biden had publicly suggested at one point last year, prompting the White House to quickly walk back his comment.

But so far, the Biden administration has yet to reveal its goals or say just how far it is willing to go in support of Ukraine. As a result, Biden is being criticized from both sides.

Those who believe that the U.S. must give Ukraine everything it needs in its war against Russian aggression in order to defend the freedom of our NATO allies in Eastern Europe, accuse Biden of giving Ukraine only just enough military aid to save it from defeat, but not enough to win.

At the same, some of Biden’s Republican conservative critics argue that the U.S. has only a limited obligation to help Ukraine because it is not a NATO ally. Therefore, they say, any U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s defense must be carefully weighed against the risk that it could precipitate a full-scale U.S. war with Russia, as well as the high cost of such aid to U.S. taxpayers.

MOST REPUBLICANS STILL SUPPORT U.S. AID FOR UKRAINE

So far, the Republicans in both the House and Senate, including GOP leaders Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, are still supporting the current level of U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

However, that was not always the case. Back in October, a few weeks before the narrow Republican victory in the midterm election which enabled him to become the Speaker of the House, McCarthy said in an interview, “I think [American] people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine. They just won’t do it. … It’s not a free blank check.”

But during his visit to Israel earlier this month, McCarthy walked back that statement, and pledged to support continued U.S. arms shipments to Ukraine, for “as long as I am Speaker.” In answer to a question he was asked in Israel about Ukraine from a Russian reporter, McCarthy declared unequivocally, “I vote for aid for Ukraine. I support aid for Ukraine.” He then added, “I do not support what your country [Russia] has done to Ukraine, I do not support your killing of the children [in Ukraine] either. You should pull out.”

REPUBLICAN AND GRASSROOTS OPPOSITION GROWING

A House resolution that was introduced in February by conservative Florida GOP Congressman Matt Gaetz to halt further U.S. aid to Ukraine attracted the support of just 10 of the chamber’s 222 Republican members. However, a less radical Senate amendment by Missouri’s conservative GOP Senator Josh Hawley, calling for the appointment of a special inspector general to oversee all Ukraine-related expenditures, did gain the approval of slightly more than half (26) of the Senate’s 49 Republicans.

At the grassroots level among Republican and GOP-leaning independent voters, opinion appears to be almost even over the current level of U.S. aid to Ukraine. An April survey last month conducted by the Echelon Insights organization found that 52 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents do not think that vital U.S. interests are at stake in Ukraine. In addition, a March poll conducted by Axios/Ipsos found that 57 percent of Republicans opposed providing weapons and financial support to Ukraine.

Another March poll, conducted by YouGov, found that support for continued U.S. financial and military aid to Ukraine was polarized by party of affiliation, above 50% for Democrats and below 50% for Republicans. The same poll also found that while a plurality of all Americans supported the sending of U.S. tanks, missiles, fighter jets, financial and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, a better than 2 to 1 majority (54%-23%) opposed direct involvement of U.S. troops in the war.

THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS IS BROKEN

The absence so far of a vigorous public debate over continuing U.S. aid to Ukraine has been frustrating to its most outspoken GOP opponents, such as Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio. “It’s insane that so few Republican members are willing to say what I’m willing to say. Clearly something is broken down about the democratic opinion-making process,” Vance complained. He then added, “I’d love to hear [Speaker] McCarthy be more skeptical of aiding Ukraine, because I think that’s where most of his voters are.”

Earlier this year, Vance sent a letter to the Biden White House calling for a full accounting of the aid the U.S. has already sent to Ukraine because the American people deserve to know where its taxpayer dollars are going and that they are not being wasted, corrupted, or diverted.

In late April, a group of three GOP U.S. Senators, including Vance, Utah’s Mike Lee, and Kentucky’s Rand Paul, joined 16 conservative House Republican members, including Matt Gaetz from Florida, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, to send a letter to President Biden. In it, they declared that they will no longer support “unrestrained” American aid to Ukraine and “will adamantly oppose all future aid packages unless they are linked to a clear diplomatic strategy designed to bring this war to a rapid conclusion.”

PUTTING LIMITS ON U.S. SUPPORT FOR THE PEOPLE OF UKRAINE

The letter said that Ukraine’s “proxy war with Russia [is] not in the strategic interest of the United States and risks an escalation that could spiral out of control.” The Republicans who signed the letter also charged that current Biden administration policy of “sanctions [against Russia] and drawn-out aid [for Ukraine]” will only further prolong the bloody conflict.

The Republican letter then suggested that, “There are appropriate ways in which the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people, but unlimited arms supplies in support of an endless war is not one of them. Our national interests, and those of the Ukrainian people, are best served by incentivizing the negotiations that are urgently needed to bring this conflict to a resolution.”

The letter also pointed out that in order to supply Ukraine with the weapons he has pledged, President Biden has repeatedly drawn down large amounts of essential equipment and ammunition from the current Pentagon inventory which cannot be quickly replaced.

HAS THE U.S. WEAKENED ITSELF BY SUPPORTING UKRAINE?

As a result, the letter suggested that, “Should our actions entangle us in a confrontation with Russia now or should conflict erupt in the Indo Pacific in the coming years, we fear that our military will be woefully unprepared to meet these challenges as a direct result of what has been shipped to Ukraine. The top responsibility of the President and the only mission of the Department of Defense is to ensure U.S. national security. To push the limits of our readiness [by shipping too many of our weapons to Ukraine] is to disregard this mission.”

In a recent interview with veteran CBS news reporter Lesley Stahl, Congresswoman Greene, who has served as a lightning-rod for attracting criticism from the liberal mainstream media, reminded the TV audience that Ukraine was “not the 51st state,” and therefore was not entitled to unlimited U.S. aid. Greene said, “We have mud all over our face, Lesley. We’re $31 trillion in debt. We’re not defending our own border. We’re ignoring our own people’s problems,” and then added, “The United States needs to be pushing for peace in Ukraine, not funding a proxy war with Russia.”

Senator Vance said his opposition to U.S. involvement in the war in Ukraine was based upon his own experiences as a young U.S. Marine serving in Iraq when it was under U.S. military occupation. Congressman Gaetz said that his opposition was based upon his observation of the impact of the U.S. involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the many military families who live in his northwestern Florida panhandle congressional district, which includes the Eglin Air Force Base and the Pensacola Naval Air Station.

OPPONENTS TO AID FOR UKRAINE DENY THAT THEY ARE ISOLATIONISTS

Congressman Gaetz vigorously denied that he and other Republican conservatives who currently oppose U.S. aid to Ukraine were following the example set by the Republican isolationists who vigorously opposed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s efforts to send U.S. military aid vitally needed by Winston Churchill’s England to fight the Nazis during the period prior to the U.S. entry into World War II. Touting the current Republican hostility to China, Gaetz said, “I don’t want my grandchildren speaking Mandarin.” Yet at the same time, he added, “I think that it’s preposterous to lash the future of the United States of America to the future of Ukraine.”

On the other side of the Republican debate over aid to Ukraine is Texas Congressman Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who recently told the New York Times that while members in his party “largely support” assisting Ukraine, “continued support goes hand in hand with increased oversight.”

THE DEMOCRAT RESPONSE

Another outspoken supporter of continued U.S. military aid to Ukraine is California’s liberal Democrat Congresswoman Barbara Lee. She will go down in history for casting the lone vote, following the 9/11 attack in 2001, against the congressional resolution which authorized President George W. Bush to use the U.S. military to oust the Taliban government in Afghanistan for giving protection to Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorists.

But Lee now argues that there are important differences justifying a U.S. intervention against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “We see a dictatorship invading a democracy. And we need to be on the side of democracy. Whenever you see innocent people being killed by a war criminal, you want to do what you can to support them,” Lee said. However, Lee failed to explain why she thinks that the victims of Russian aggression in Ukraine today provide a better reason for U.S. military intervention than the nearly 3,000 Americans who died at the hands of terrorists on 9/11.

Maryland’s Democrat Senator Chris Van Hollen has a simpler approach to the question. He condemns the Republicans who criticize U.S. military aid to Ukraine simply because they are followers of what Van Hollen calls, “the Tucker Carlson/Viktor Orban/Donald Trump wing of the party.” The Maryland Democrat adds that “among that group, there are some very influential voices, starting with Trump, who believe that the idea of ‘America first’ translates into America retreating from the rest of the world.”

CITING THE BENEFITS OF U.S. INTERVENTION IN UKRAINE

Gabriel Scheinmann is the executive director of the Alexander Hamilton Society, which encourages young people to pursue careers in foreign policy and national security, and which supports the “strong and principled American leadership in global affairs.” In a February op-ed published by the Washington Post, Scheinmann wrote, “The Russian invasion has allowed the United States to conduct a dry run of exactly the sort of policies that deterring or defeating a Chinese attack on Taiwan would require: active defense industrial production lines, an efficient logistics network to get those arms into the field, a coalition of allies providing significant firepower and aid, an increase in energy exports to sustain our allies, and economic pressure to punish and degrade the aggressor.”

Scheinmann admits that over the past 30 years, the sharp decline in post-Cold War U.S. defense spending has left the Pentagon totally unprepared to respond adequately to the equipment needs of “the current conflict in Ukraine, which is the largest land war in Europe since the end of World War II.”

He notes that “When the Berlin Wall stood, the United States was spending 26.5 percent of federal outlays on defense; today, it is less than half that, a post-World War II low. . . Declining demand has led to a wave of industry consolidations; what was once 50 prime [Pentagon] contractors has become five. . .

TAKING THE FIRST STEP BY RECOGNIZING THAT THERE IS A PROBLEM

“Paradoxically, the greatly expanded U.S. effort to support Ukraine might be our best chance at providing the necessary shock therapy to snap us out of our complacency. It has brought popular attention and political scrutiny to the problem,” of an inadequate number of domestic factories and shipyards to replenish the Pentagon’s depleted stocks of weapons and ammunition which Biden has already sent to Ukraine, Scheinmann writes.

As a result, the U.S. Navy is hundreds short of the number of ships it needs to fully meet its current worldwide commitments. The U.S. Air Force doesn’t have enough modern fighters in its inventory to equip U.S. bases in the Middle East, and now has only 20 of its newest B-2 strategic bombers, which went out of production more than 20 years ago. The Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and the M-777 howitzers which the U.S. sent to Ukraine are no longer in production at all. In addition, America’s allies in Taiwan, which is under increasing threat of invasion from communist China, is still awaiting delivery of a growing $19 billion backlog of long-approved U.S. weapons.

On the other hand, Scheimann observes optimistically, “In the scramble to identify, update and transport military materiel to Ukraine, the United States has taken the first — and most difficult — step of fixing the problem: acknowledging there is a problem in the first place.”

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